Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s production of Head Over Heels is a colorful, musical celebration of love in all its forms. The 2018 musical, adapted by James Magruder with original book by Jeff Whitty, puts together Sir Philip Sidney’s Elizabethan comedy The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia with songs from the ’80s all-female band The Go-Go’s. Directed by Mark Briner and choreographed by Becca Vourvoulas, it features cross-dressing, same-sex love, and non-binary characters for great comic effect, while also giving plenty to think about.
Sean Garcia plays Basilius, king of Arcadia with great comic desperation. Trying to avoid telling his family of the prophecies that will forever change the kingdom, he sends them on a mad quest, showing his franticness in “Get Up and Go.” In “Lust to Love” he reveals how far he is willing to go to save himself. Traci Denhardt plays the queen Gynecia with cunning, trying to worm the truth out of Basilius. Their “duet” of sorts in “This Old Feeling” shows their passions, and they let loose their feelings in “Heaven Is a Place on Earth.” Denhardt gives a powerful performance near the end, wanting to make Arcadia a place where everyone “can be their best selves.”
Sarah Johansen gives wonderful comic timing to Pamela, eldest daughter of Basilius and Gynecia. In “Beautiful” she sings of being perfect, and later comically condescendingly explains a poetic term. In “How Much More” she tears up the cushions on a bed and chases the other performers around the stage. Reciting a poem revealing her inclinations, she leaves out the “naughty bits.” She also has a nice emotional range, singing with Mopsa (Ally Baca) in “Automatic Rainy Day” of the (temporary) end of their friendship and passionately twirling with Baca in “Turn to You” when they make up.
Ally Baca plays the handmaiden Mopsa with great strength. She tries to get Johansen to reveal her true feelings, only to lead to the angry “Automatic Rainy Day.” She sings longingly in “Vacation” of the one she loves.
Geneva Croteau gives a youthful innocence to youngest daughter Philoclea. In “Good Girl” she sings of wanting to make everyone love her, even if that means giving up her own dreams. She fills “Here You Are” with deep emotion, having just endured a terrible tragedy. In “Our Lips Are Sealed,” she joyfully sings of keeping a secret, while “Head Over Heels” is her celebration of love.
Matthew Rigby plays the shepherd Musidorous with excellent comic chops. In love with Philoclea, he begins “Mad About You” singing the Ensemble’s part under his breath, as no one supports him. When emotional, he speaks in an unintelligible version of Elizabethan English the other characters call “shepherd’s speech.” Dressing in Amazonian women’s warrior garb to pursue Philoclea, he finds himself the object of desire of nearly everyone in the royal court, leading to hilarious moments.
Hunter Aldridge plays Dametas, Basilius’ viceroy, with a quiet strength, giving unheeded good advice to the king and trying to save Arcadia from the prophecies.
Ethan Keller gives a comic fierceness to Pythio, the oracle who shakes up Arcadia with their prophecies. Playing a non-binary “they,” Keller sasses Garcia and Aldridge in “Vision of Nowness” while offering advice to Rigby. Keller starts “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” with power before watching over the song’s events. As each prophecy comes true, Keller drops a different colored flag.
The Ensemble (Ethan Albo, Shane Coleman, Christopher Hanson, Jayden Maduro, Noam Siegel, Carly Bereznay, Joani Calles, Sara Corwin, Madelyn Keir, Mary Guay Kramer, Meghan McCarthy, and Izzie Zalovick) provides more comedy, serving as mirrors to Pamela and sheep to Musidorus. They have a wonderful moment when they too quickly separate a bridge Rigby stands on during “Mad About You.”
Set Designer Todd Croteau has created a colorful set, with a backdrop of woods on either side of the stage. In the center, two white Greek-style columns frame a box for the musicians. Above is a balcony with further columns. For “Vacation” and “Heaven Is a Place on Earth,” white sheets cover the front of the stage, serving as channels and screens.
Costume Designer Lisa Chadwick blends Elizabethan and ’80s styles. Basilius is in regal purple tights, while Pamela has a blue and red hooped dress, and Philoclea wears a pink dress. Mopsa is in a pink a blue top and brown shorts. The Ensemble wears black pants and vests. Pythio looks like a lounge performer in a sparkly black gown and feathered headdress, later changing into a golden gown. Musidorus’ female persona wears a brown leather breastplate and shorts.
Lighting Designer Matthew Rigby reflects the changing emotions by bathing the stage in reds, greens, and purples at different moments. Multiple colored lights flash at dramatic times. For “Heaven Is a Place on Earth,” lights create silhouettes of the action behind the screen.
Musical Director Ken Kimble ensures the music and the singing blend well together, none overpowering the other. Choreographer Becca Vourvoulas has created lots of lovely movements and dances throughout the show, many inspired by the ’80s; some of the Ensemble do the Worm. Mark Briner does a wonderful job as director. The performers navigate the stage and each other perfectly. They hit all the right moments, both comedic and heartfelt. They sing full of energy and passion. While providing lots of laugh-out-loud moments, Head Over Heels also shows that, as the Director’s Note states, “Love is Love is Love” no matter the era.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, including a 15-minute intermission.
Head Over Heels
Songs by the Go-Go’s
Based on “The Arcadia” by Sir Philip Sidney
Conceived and Original Book by Jeff Whitty
Adapted by James Magruder
Directed by Mark Briner
Music Director: Ken Kimble
Choreographer: Becca Vourvoulas
Basilius – Sean Garcia
Gynecia – Traci Denhardt
Pamela – Sarah Johansen
Philoclea – Geneva Croteau
Dametas – Hunter Aldridge
Mopsa – Ally Baca
Musidorus – Matthew Rigby
Pythio – Ethan Keller
Christopher Hanson – understudy for Basilius and Dametas
Ethan Albo – understudy for Pythio
Noam Siegel – Understudy for Musidorus
Joani Calles – understudy for Gynecia
Mary Guay Kramer