They got the beat: ‘Head Over Heels’ stuns at Wildwood Summer Theatre

Every moment felt like a new discovery, and the show’s triumphant story radiated through every actor.

The program for Wildwood Summer Theatre’s production of Head Over Heels — original book by Jeff Whitty and music by The Go-Go’s — is chock full of helpful information. Courtesy of dramaturgs Katie Quinn and Delaney Gregg, the program boasts four pages on everything from The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney (the source material for Whitty’s script) to interesting tidbits on the mythological Amazons and The Go-Go’s themselves. These details set expectations sky-high long before the actors set foot onstage. If ruffs are mentioned, we want to see ruffs. If courtly dances are mentioned, those had better be integrated into the choreography. And the production does not disappoint. In Wildwood Summer Theatre’s rendition of Head Over Heels, every acting moment is fleshed out and every technical element is tightly interwoven with the director’s vision.

Top: Jae K. Gee as Pythio; from left: Hannah Briceño, Kit Aylesworth, Taylor Litofsky, Scott Armiger as Dametas, Madelyn Zaccari, Ross Bollinger as King Basilius, Hanna Biedron, Maggie Rocha, Noam Slott, John Lynch, Giuliana Weiss, and Samantha Cernich in ‘Head Over Heels.’ Photo by Delaney Gregg.

The show opens with the most well-known Go-Go’s jam, “We Got the Beat.” Fueled by the mysterious “beat,” the citizens of Arcadia are connected by their love of song and dance, and on the surface, Arcadia is a utopia. But as we dive into the plot, the cracks begin to show. King Basilius (played by Ross Bollinger) is a narcissistic cad and has left most of his kingdom’s logic puzzles to his wife, Queen Gynecia (played by Evelyn Micacci). Their eldest daughter Pamela (played by Emma Rose Dorsch) is beset by suitors but finds fault with every option. Her younger sister Philoclea (played by Caleigh Riordan Davis) is generally underappreciated and overlooked. This family unit is on the brink of collapse, and it only takes a gentle push from Pythio, the Oracle of Delphi (played by Jae K. Gee) to send the royal family on a quest for answers. Along the way, Princess Pamela falls in love with her handmaiden Mopsa (played by Lulu Mote), and Philoclea gets together with her childhood friend Musidorus (played by Katie Quinn). There is love, loss, and some spectacular sword fighting, courtesy of fight director Kiefer Cure. Cure brought a raw realism to the fight between Musidorus and King Basilius, the few minutes of which left the audience white-knuckled in our seats.

Center: Katie Quinn as Musidorus; from left: Hanna Biedron, Taylor Litofsky, Noam Slott, Giuliana Weiss, Madelyn Zaccari, Maggie Rocha in ‘Head Over Heels.’ Photo by Delaney Gregg.

This cast is simply excellent. From the acting chops demonstrated by Jae K. Gee as the effervescent Pythio and Scott Armiger as the high-strung viceroy Dametas to the golden vocal quartet of Lulu Mote, Caleigh Riordan Davis, Emma Rose Dorsch, and Katie Quinn, Head Over Heels is simply bursting with talent. Evelyn Micacci and Ross Bollinger are a magical pair as king and queen and their two duets, “This Old Feeling” and “Heaven Is a Place on Earth,” were hilarious and incredibly rock ‘n’ roll. The ensemble adds a lot to the show, playing a lion, serpent, owls, and the like. Each actor was necessary, and the dance corps made up of Maggie Rocha, Kit Aylesworth, Hanna Biedron, Hannah Briceño, Gabrielle Witte, Madelyn Zaccari, Taylor Litofsky, and Samantha Cernich had some pretty moments. Choreographers Kit Aylesworth and Caitlin Valleskey created some great lines, using every actor onstage to create nicely layered stage images. If the spacing is cleaned up a little bit, the effect will be even better.

In their director’s note, Ileana Blustein mentions that when Head Over Heels premiered on Broadway in 2018, it had a short run and disappointing ticket sales. As someone who had never heard of the jukebox musical let alone seen it, this surprised me. Wildwood Summer Theatre’s Head Over Heels is exuberantly queer and delightfully subverts the subject matter from which it draws. The show explores genre-bending like no other, fusing Elizabethan fashions with glam rock accessories and ’70s punk with frothy love ballads. The costume department led by Maddy Cooper must’ve had a ton of fun putting together the myriad of leather pants, glitter, and corsets that bedecked the actors. The vision was clear, and the costumers should be very proud of themselves — they were the cherry on top of a jubilant cake. The six-piece orchestra was larger than life and was located upstage center under several platforms, and they sounded great. Unfortunately, in a volume battle between vocals and instruments, the instruments almost always win. It may behoove the production team to look into the onstage mixing to make sure we can always hear the actors over the musicians.

Overall, Wildwood Summer Theatre has an electrifying bit of theater on its hands. It’s truly something special when the passions of the production and acting teams bleed into the very being of the show. Every moment felt like a new discovery, and the show’s triumphant story radiated through every actor. Director Bluestein harnessed pure humanity with Head Over Heels and created something that I could see again and again. Congrats to the citizens of Arcadia and the crew of Head Over Heels for bringing the beat back.

Running Time: Approximately two hours plus a 15-minute intermission.

Head Over Heels plays through August 5, 2023, presented by Wildwood Summer Theater performing at the Cultural Arts Center Theatre 2, Montgomery College Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus, 7995 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, MD. Purchase tickets ($20; senior, military educator, $18; student, $14) online.


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