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Review: John Dwyer

Standing ‘O’ never ends at Music Mountain’s ‘Head Over Heels’

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Kudos to Music Mountain Theatre for picking up this production and pulling out all the stops.
It was a gamble as “Head Over Heels” got mixed reviews when it was on Broadway, but that was due to miscasting its male lead. His romance with a princess is the main story line.
Also, there is a crazy mix of Elizabethan dialect and modern gender issues that may seem way too much to think about and too incongruous. But this production does all it needs to with finesse, looking to play the long game with the right touch of humor and rock and roll.
All the songs are from the girl group The Go-Go’s. They bounce with energy. They defy your feet to stop tapping. As the opening number is done with a full-out assault of a dance number that introduces the entire cast, the ensemble rocks the house along with a live band for a good 10 minutes, where the audience just can’t sit still. The song “We Got the Beat” had the almost full house gyrating in their seats.
A transgendered oracle Pythio (Tim Chastain) visits King Basilius (Blair Johnson) of Arcadia circa 1500 and warns that due to stagnation, the kingdom will lose its beat (heart/purpose of being) and be lost.
The downfall will be preceded by a set of singularly unlikely events. These occur one by one. Will the kingdom be saved?
Add into this dilemma, the love of a shepherd boy Musidorus (Karl Weigand) for the King’s youngest daughter, Princess Philoclea (Alison McMullen).
In this show, we are given a 21st century lesson about gender roles and sexual orientation in a 16th century setting, complete with iambic pentameter. Done with such exuberance, passion and zany good will, the craziness of it all works.
An impossible feat brought to fruition by all involved and especially a delicious ensemble that leaves it all out there on the stage in full company “song and dance” numbers that threaten to blow the roof off the building. This non-equity troupe give us what professional theater is all about. Giving 100%.
Added to the above turmoil is Queen Gynecia (Jenny McNiven) who is not given her due by her husband the King…and a daughter Pamela (Jenna Parrilla-Alvino) who is trying to find a royal husband and, by decree, is seen as the most beautiful lady of the land, but to no avail.
We have her handmaiden who attends to her every wish. Mopsa (Angelica Staikos). Mopsa’s dad is Dametas (Edward Honan), who is the royal viceroy of King Basilius.
The cast is uniformly excellent. As the songs are from an all girl band, they truly soar and harken to the Go-Go sound under the ladies (McNiven, McMullen, Parilla-Alvino and Staikos).
But Tim Chastain is every inch a diva and brings power and glam and style to the singing Oracle. His costumes are dazzling, as is his performance.

Karl Weigand, in order to court the beautiful princess, has to go under cover as a woman, Cleophila. He transforms himself from gentle sheep-herder to a strong, loving buff-looking woman. A 16th century “Tootsie.” Weigand has great comic chops.
The ladies all seem versed in Shakespearean dialogue and the dialogue is madcap and hilarious. McNiven, in her career, seems to be able to handle a wider range of roles, all of them distinct. Parilla-Alvino, as well. And, since I was impressed by McMullen and Staikos, I have to acknowledge the caliber of all four.
From the opening number of “We Got the Beat,” the energy is high. Parilla-Alvino’s “Beautiful” is better than the Go-Go’s and comes full circle in its meaning when reprised. “Mad About You” is perfection sung by Weigand and his sheep. “This Old Feeling” done by the King and Queen (Johnson and McNiven) is wonderfully staged, along with “Heaven is a Place on Earth.”
Chastain’s vocals in the latter are sultry and I just want to tip the hat to him for those vocals. Edward Honan is adorable as the Viceroy. Kind of like if Paul Lynde had the personality of Topo Gigio. Johnson has a kingly air and acquits himself well as Basilius.
There is a live band of Sue Den Outer at keyboard, Meghan Doyle guitar and Julia Baker percussion. They produce an amazing sound.
The costumes are stunning. The handiwork of Jordan Brennan, Travis Gawason and Ava Scanlon deserves a standing ovation on its own.
As the show was to be done last year, more and more detail got added over those months and the costumes sparkle, literally some glow and some are gorgeously over the top.
The show ends with the percussive “We Got the Beat” and as hands were clapping and feet were stomping, the unity of all…both on stage and off was real.
Will Arcadia find its beat again and be brought together? Well, the cast and audience were one, as we stood applauding a show that many wish could be longer. But that would mean that the audience would have to sit back down and stop applauding.
The show, at the theater in Lambertville, N.J., runs to July 18. Tickets are available at musicmountaintheatre.org.


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