Head Over Heels on Broadway

“Welcome to Katz Reviews. This is Ed Katz of Katnip Marketing- marketing consultant by day; theater and film critic by night- bringing my weekly review segment, Katz Reviews, here for you on WICC 600.

Broadway has seen more than its share of jukebox musicals lately.

Jimmy Buffet’s show closed- mercifully. Donna Summer’s is still running- though, other than La Chanze’s performance, there is no real reason it should be, as- even with Summer’s music-  it’s brutally bad. And Cher’s story is coming soon- with several others to follow suit.

The newest one to open is ‘Head Over Heels’ and it features the music catalogue of the Go-Go’s. It also has many critically acclaimed people involved: Jeff Whitty, co-creator of the award-winning ‘Avenue Q’ and multi-award winners Tom Kitt, who orchestrated and arranged the music and Michael Mayer, who directed it- as well as ‘Spring Awakening,’ ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ and ‘American Idiot.’ Spencer Liff provided the unique, twisty choreography.

These are remarkably talented people and, as I was reminded watching ‘Head Over Heels,’ the Go-Go’s really were talented hit makers. So many infectiously catchy songs- starting with opening number ‘We Got the Beat’ to ‘Vacation,’ ‘Our Lips are Sealed’ and Go-Go’s lead singer Belinda Carlisle’s hit, ‘Mad About You.’

And all those are in Act One!

Rachel York, Jeremy Kushnier; photo: Joan Marcus

As for the cast, not really any big household names- maybe Rachel York- but Alexandra Socha, Jeremy Kushnier and Andrew Durand all have great credentials.

And what did all these talented people create?

Well, the music is terrific. Tom Kitt’s arrangements fit this show really well. And everyone in the cast does a great job bringing this unusual story to life. About that story… Jeff Whitty, as I said, of ‘Avenue Q’ fame, conceived it. And- it’s out there. Loosely based on a 16th century prose poem… Well, imagine a medieval kingdom where an oracle- played by the transgender reality TV star Peppermint- predicts four events will come true, leading to the downfall of the king.

Peppermint; worldofwonder.net; photo: Joan Marcus

Now the king, played by Jeremy Kushnier, naturally wants to prevent this and recruits his viceroy, played with panache by Tom Alan Robbins, to help keep what the soothsayer said from becoming reality. Not to worry, this show isn’t reality- the 16th century characters often talk in Shakespearean iambic pentameter- but it imagines a world that celebrates the LGBTQ lifestyle and ends with (mild spoiler alert) some same sex marriages.

How does this kind of story and dialogue mesh with the Go-Go’s music and lyrics? Not as badly as you might think. There are many inspired moments that are funny as well as clever. Unfortunately, there are at least as many moments that are insipid and groan-inducing- like the concept of the kingdom relying on having “the beat” to keep it going. Think of Star Wars’ “the force”- but it’s much less effective here… actually more like a useless appendage.

Bonnie Milligan (c); hollywoodreporter.com; photo: Joan Marcus

And somehow the creators reduced the Go-Go’s ‘Skidmarks on My Heart’ to a one-joke punch line- that they kept repeating over and over, wasting a good song and making it into a bad joke. Was this by Jeff Whitty- or James Magruder, who took over the adaptation after Whitty quit the show?

Who knows? But ‘Head Over Heels’ is a truly mixed bag that veers from fun, clever and catchy, to silly and lame and I give it 3 stars out of 5- but the music, performed by an all female band, really rocks throughout the show. At the very least, your toes will be tapping to the beat of those catchy Go-Go’s songs.

Catch my reviews right here this time each week and on my Facebook page and website, Katz Reviews dot com, where you will find all my WICC 600 reviews. This is Ed Katz talking theater for WICC 600!”