It’s not often that you read complaints on a chat board that a jukebox musical is “too hard” and needs to be dumbed down for mass consumption. But Head Over Heels is a very unusual jukebox show. Rather than tell the story of the ‘80s girl group the Go-Gos, it instead uses their (and lead singer Belinda Carlisle’s) hits, from “We Got The Beat” to “Vacation” and beyond, to enliven a story borrowed from a 16th Century work, The Arcadia. (Jeff Whitty conceived and wrote the show’s book, and James Magruder did the adaptation).
As part of that (very) high concept, the story involves wordplay, gender play, and rampant sexuality, as various royal family characters find their true selves and partners, while accidentally getting back “the beat.” The fabulous Peppermint (from Drag Race Season 9) is the nonbinary Oracle of Delphi who arrives in a glittery headdress to announce that “Arcadia could lose its famous beat” unless it heeds various prognostications and warnings.
The intricate plot that results has a shepherd who’s the suitor of one of the royal daughters ending up in drag as an Amazon, which seems to bring out the lesbianism in the other royal daughter, as well as titillating the King and galvanizing the Queen (who knows he’s a man in drag and wants it bad). The script apes classical speech patterns while also mocking them, and in the process, is full of giddy shtick (Peppermint gets to announce “Thou better workest” before an exit).
The cast is hardworking and talented, especially the amazing Bonnie Milligan as the more narcissistic of the two daughters and the Peter Scolari-ish Andrew Durand as the lead drag queen, who breaks fourth walls and romantic barriers. The Oracle’s lover gets to sing “I’m mad about them” and gets a big laugh (though it’s all in good fun; the show celebrates its diverse characters). The Oracle even gets to reveal an alter ego, which I won’t spoil, and there’s also a serious twist, which doesn’t quite come off, though things get funny again.
Michael Mayer’s direction and Spencer Liff’s choreography are specific and vigorous (with lots of voguing moves thrown in), and at the end, the all-girl band is revealed. If you can’t figure out why they have an all-girl band, then this show is too hard for you.