WHAT "Head Over Heels"
WHERE Hudson Theatre, 141 W. 44th St.
INFO Tickets from $55; 855-801-5876, thehudsonbroadway.com
BOTTOM LINE Delightfully entertaining romp, with music by the Go-Go's.
Honestly, there's no way this should have worked. A musical based on a piece of 16th century Elizabethan prose, set to the songs of the 1980s girl power band the Go-Go's, makes no sense, right? And yet “Head Over Heels," now at the Hudson Theatre, is a delightfully entertaining romp, an impressive display of theatrical creativity that leaves you in awe of any mind capable of dreaming it up. (Extra points because it didn't start out as a movie.)
Instead of going all "Jersey Boys" to tell the complicated story of the on-again, off-again group with one of the most successful debut albums of all time, creators Jeff Whitty and James Magruder chose to deliver a gender-fluid message of inclusivity, love and respect.
Leading the charge is the performer Peppermint, best known from "RuPaul's Drag Race" and the first female trans actor to originate a principal role on Broadway. She plays the ominous Pythio, Oracle of Delphi, making it clear she's a nonbinary being to be addressed as "they." Pythio's prophecies of doom threaten to bring down the kingdom of Arcadia, which is driven by a mystical force known as "the beat," justifying the opening number — and the group's biggest hit — "We Got the Beat." Starting to get what I mean by theatrical creativity?
The casting is perfection as the story unfolds in (mostly) iambic pentameter, the Shakespearean-like plot involving significant cross dressing and mistaken identities. It turns on finding an appropriate suitor for the extremely vain plus-size Princess Pamela (Bonnie Milligan) who, in keeping with the above themes, has eyes only for her handmaiden Mopsa (Taylor Iman Jones). Meanwhile the plain Princess Philoclea (Alexandra Socha) is smitten with the shepherd Musidorus (Andrew Durand). When he is banished by the king (Jeremy Kushnier), Philoclea disguises himself as an Amazon to keep close.
As the action moves along under Michael Mayer's swift direction, we're treated to fabulously athletic choreography by Spencer Liff, and an eclectic mashup of old-new costumes (think shirtless suitors in only tights and a ruff) by Arianne Phillips. And the Go-Go's standards, along with some singles from lead singer Belinda Carlisle, keep coming: "Vacation," "Our Lips Are Sealed," "Mad About You."
This being a musical comedy, let's just say all's well that ends well. Everyone ends up with the right love match, even the Oracle, though that particular turn of events requires some tinkering with lyrics. "I'm mad about them," sings the husband she has just returned to, before the cast finishes with "We Got the Beat." Actually, we all do.