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THEATER REVIEW Head Over Heels
by Scott C. Morgan, Windy City Times
2019-07-10

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Songs: The Go-Go's; Conception and original book: Jeff Whitty; Book adaptation: James Magruder

At: Kokandy Productions at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.. Tickets: 773-975-8150 or KokandyProductions.com; $35-$40. Runs through: Aug. 25

Who knew that Sir Philip Sidney's gender-bending pastoral romance The Arcadia from the 1590s could be paired with the 1980s song hits of The Go-Go's? That's the unconventional thinking that largely works for Head Over Heels, a 2018 jukebox musical this is an unabashed and joyous LGBTQ fairytale.

Kokandy Productions scored a coup by snagging the rights for the Chicago premiere of Head Over Heels just six months after it closed on Broadway. While co-directors Derek Van Barham and Elizabeth Swanson do not have a production budget to approach the lavishness of Head Over Heels on Broadway, they certainly can't be faulted in terms of their talented ensemble's overflowing enthusiasm.

Head Over Heels is set in the fictional royal court of Arcadia. King Basilius ( Frankie Leo Bennett ) is thrown into a tizzy when he receives four usurping predictions from the Oracle of Delphi named Pythio ( a role pioneered on Broadway by transgender drag star Peppermint and played in Chicago by Parker Guidry ). Rather than share the predictions with Queen Gynecia ( Liz Norton ), Basilius fabricates lies to force his court to travel to Bohemia.

Pythio also inspires the lowly shepherd Musidorus ( Jeremiah Alsop ) to switch genders in his efforts of to win the hand of the princess Philoclea ( Caitlyn Cerza ). Meanwhile, the haughty elder princess Pamela ( Bridget Adams-King ) soon discovers that she has feelings for her lady-in-waiting Mopsa ( Deanalis Resto ).

The script for Head Over Heels ( originally conceived by Jeff Whitty and then adapted by James Magruder ) is alternately silly and earnest as it mixes Elizabethan formality with expanding views of non-binary expression and love.

And though it is a stretch for some of The Go-Go's songs to fit in at times, they genuinely do forward the plot along as they tap into the characters' doubts and inner-feelings.

The show's fairy-tale quality is enhanced by G. "Max" Maxin IV's flashy lighting design, Breon Arzell's bouncy choreography and Chris Rhonton's unit set of a symbolic circle. Yet one wishes that Uriel Gomez's costumes could have been more "Elizabethan" fabulous ( and perhaps more conservative up front to differentiate between the Arcadian court's early rigidness and its later acceptance of more gender fluidity ).

Mike Patrick's sound design is a tad too blaring at times, especially with some lyrics getting drowned out by the rocking onstage band led by music director Kyra Leigh.

But overall, Head Over Heels serves as a corrective to all the ancient fairytales that have excluded LGBTQ protagonists for far too long. Kokandy Productions' enthusiastic take on Head Over Heels is wonderful way to keep your Pride Month celebrations going all summer long.


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