Head Over Heels Marries the Go-Go’s Pop-Punk with a Queenly Trio of Love Stories

Philoclea and the disguised Musidorus (Melissa Felps and Clayton Humburg) singing "Our Lips Are Sealed."
Philoclea and the disguised Musidorus (Melissa Felps and Clayton Humburg) singing "Our Lips Are Sealed." JILL RITTER LINDBERG

Head Over Heels

Written by Jeff Whitty, James Macgruder and Tom Kitt. Adapted from Sir Philip Sidney's The Arcadia. Music by The Go-Go's. Directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor. Presented by New Line Theatre through March 28 at the Marcelle Theater (3310 Samuel Shepard Drive; www.newlinetheatre.com). Tickets are $10 to $30.

All is not well in the kingdom of Arcadia. Long sustained by its famous "beat," a mystical pulse that all citizens can feel, King Basilius has been warned by the oracle Pythio that soon four pennants may fall, and each one will bring a new calamity to Arcadia: His younger daughter Philoclea will marry a liar. His oldest daughter Pamela will wed, but to no groom. King Basilius will commit adultery with his wife Queen Gynecia. King Basilius will make way for a new king. If all four flags fall, Arcadia's beat will be stilled and the kingdom will fall. But on the upside, the royal court sings the music of the Go-Go's when they're not sure how to proceed or say what they really want to say.

Head Over Heels knits together two very strange elements — a sixteenth century prose romance and the pop-punk of the aforementioned Go-Go's — to surprising effect. What's most surprising is how well these songs, written by the various members of the band, fit the story and vice versa. New Line Theatre's current production Head Over Heels, directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor, is a winning show about love, forgiveness and finding one's true self in a non-binary world. It also shows just how good the Go-Go's were as songwriters, as the New Line Band delivers absolutely crackling versions of the score's seventeen songs.

Basilius' response to the augury is to lie to his family about what's at stake, and then take his court on the road to meet and hopefully kill this "new king" before he is himself killed and replaced. The journey through the forest exacerbates many of the personal problems boiling under the surface. All around them is ruin. Scenic designer Rob Lippert's sets place the action between a quartet of cracked and broken columns and a shallow cave that's home to two skeletons, against which the court's brightly colored costumes stand out like fabulous birds.

Ruin soon comes to eldest daughter Pamela (Grace Langford). She has an outsize ego at the best of times, and her vanity begins to bother her longtime servant, Mopsa (Jaclyn Amber). The two air their grievances in the beautiful "Automatic Rainy Day," a song battle that spirals out of control and deeply hurts both women. Pamela can't quite decipher why Mopsa so upsets her, but Mopsa knows: She loves Pamela and suspects Pamela would return that love if she could tear herself away from her many mirrors. Mopsa abandons her mistress to cool off, which she does with a stirring rendition of "Vacation." Amber imbues the song with a heaping helping of teenage angst, as her anger turns to yearning. Being with her beloved Pamela is surely better than being away from her.

Younger sister Philoclea (Melissa Felps) nurses her own broken heart. Before the courtiers left the kingdom, her childhood friend Musidorus (Clayton Humburg), a shepherd, fumblingly proposed marriage to the princess with a magnificent rendition of "Mad About You." (His backup singers are his sheep, and they almost steal the song from him.) Basilius rebuked him for his lowly station, and now Musidorus travels with the court while disguised as an Amazon warrior. As the beautiful "Cleophila," Musidorus catches the wandering eye of both the king and the queen, which is sure to be trouble down the road. For now, he reveals his secret identity to Philoclea, and the two kiss and swoon while Pamela and Mopsa do the same nearby, as all four sing "Our Lips Are Sealed." The two couples are mirror images of joy; love looks the same regardless of the participants' genders or identities.

As for the old lovers, Basilius and Gynecia, love is a foreign country. Basilius (Zachary Allen Farmer) has grown hidebound and strident under the crown, no longer heeding his wife's good advice. As for Gynecia (Carrie Wenos Preismeyer), she's wiser than her husband suspects; she knows Cleophila is a man, and goes to dally with him in the forest. Through some tricky note passing, Basilius does the same. As the married couple cavort under a quite large sheet, Pythio (Tielere Cheatem) emerges to watch the third prophecy come true, and to sing "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" with the two lovers. Cheatem sings the pants off it, giving the song a suitably carnal edge as husband and wife unknowingly take one another like young lovers.

The show begins and ends with "We Got the Beat," a sure sign that things end roughly where they began. All that's changed is everything. Love is in full bloom, a new ruler dons the crown and Arcadia is reborn as a kingdom open to every possible permutation of love. It's the fairytale ending we need.

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