Categories: Arts Theater

‘Head Over Heels’ has the beat and heart

If you don’t know the music before you enter the Curran, you may not have many A-ha moments of ’80s awareness at “Head Over Heels.” Frettest thou not, though, for — Wham! Habemus percussio! (“They’ve got the beat!”) — and they make it big.

It’s that kind of punditry, accent on the first syllable, mashed into iambic pentameter, with a broad wink, and tongue fiercely in cheek, that makes for a fizzy, athletic, stylish and very funny night of musical theater.

Conceived by Jeff Whitty (“Avenue Q”), the plot, adapted by James Magruder from “The Arcadia” by Sir Philip Sidney, is seasoned with catalog selections from The Go-Go’s and Belinda Carlisle that, like most jukebox musicals, hit big with the hits but sometimes miss on the lesser songs.

What makes the show click, however, is its outstanding cast and director Michael Mayer’s keen sense for just how far to milk a gag and when to pluck the heartstrings. It’s a seamless mix of low comedy, romance and transgressive messaging, bringing “the other” from the periphery to center stage empowerment.

All of the eight principal actors shine, as does the very agile eight-member ensemble.

Jeremy Kushnier and Rachel York smartly play bickerson royals, Basilus and Gynecia, frustrated by their marriage and the seemingly impossible task of finding a husband for their eldest daughter.

As said daughter, Bonnie Milligan is particularly fearless as plus-sized Princess Pamela, grabbing her blindly vainglorious character with both hands and sculpting a comic master class from her oblivious excesses.

Andrew Durand is equally adventurous as her sister’s shepherd-speaking, would-be lover Musidorus, who needs to channel his inner Amazon on the path to true love. Opposite him, Alexandra Socha exudes just enough wide-eyed flower-child as Philoclea, Pamela’s “far less desirable” sister.

Bay Area native Taylor Iman Jones confidently emcees the evening and navigates a surprising path from servant to suitor, while also counseling her widowed father Dametas, sweetly played with a touch of wry by Tom Alan Robbins.

Playing with them all is Peppermint (“RuPaul’s Drag Race”) as Pythio, the oh-snap, non-binary Oracle of Delphi, who set the conflicts in motion but has a secret of her own.

The sets by Julian Crouch and costumes by Arianne Phillips are sumptuous, kicky and clever eye candy, with nods to period design structures in the former and Go-Go’s sheet music (once again, “We’ve Got the Beat”) in the latter.

Opening in New York in July, “Head Over Heels” is another step in the Grammy-fication of Broadway, continuing the circle that once saw cast recordings as the source of America’s pop soundtrack. Happily, a welcome message and solid comic theater-making is at its heart and the beat is extra!


REVIEW

Head Over Heels
Where: Curran, 445 Geary St,, S.F.
When: Tuesdays through Sundays; closes May 6
Tickets: $29 to $175
Contact: (415) 358-1220, www.sfcurran.com

Robert Sokol

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