Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Head over Heels
Maybe it's not quite as ravishingly harmonic as New Line's Hair (2000, and revived in 2009) or as historically devastating as their Atomic (2015). Maybe it's just the smoothest, most relentlessly "Broadway" musical they've ever done. Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor co-direct with genuine humor and sensitivity. But they're steamrollered by their own hard-charging chorus: a virtually flawless army of energetic singers and dancers, perfectly choreographed by Michelle Sauer and Sara Rae Womack. "Virtually flawless" because the very first number seemed a little tentative on opening night, before everything turned to solid gold. Otherwise, this show doesn't stop for its dance numbers, it's bound together by them.
Of course, the 1980s (which spawned a hundred great music groups, including The Go-Go's) will seem like ancient history to some in the audience. "There's a song in here called 'Cool Jerk,'" the young man seated next to me informed his friend (though that number originated in 1966, recorded by The Capitols). And, in a show running nearly two and a half hours, the Go-Go's version of "Cool Jerk" is cut down to a simple refrain, for time purposes. Perhaps Head over Heels also has a whisper of Laurence Welk in it, aimed at people who lived through those '80s dance hall nights, and inexplicably retained most of their hearing. Head over Heels is pop punk, with an irrepressible attitude and an impressive list of songs, including "We Got the Beat," "Vacation," "Our Lips Are Sealed," and "Mad About You." The TV producer Matt Weiner once suggested nostalgia always runs about 40 years behind the times. If so, we're right on schedule: ringing the '80s back in again in 2020.
But it's ancient Greece that occupies the arena stage at the Marcelle Theatre this month, very loosely based on a 16th century poem, "The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia" by Sir Philip Sidney and re-imagined here as a modern sex comedy. Comic and vocal powerhouse Grace Langford plays the vain princess, refusing to wed, and her father embarks on a pilgrimage to Delphi to get some oracular advice. There, youthful diva Tiélere Cheatem plays a sassy transsexual seer, with several strange prophesies to hand out. Romantic mishaps and misunderstandings ensue, in the book by Jeff Whitty, adapted by James Magruder.
But at the center of it all are Melissa Felps and Clayton Humburg as the two young lovers, with heart-tugging assignations between all the wonderful song and dance (with music arranged by Tom Kitt, and led here by Nicolas Valdez). Ms. Langford and Ms. Felps, along with another member of the royal troupe, Mopsa, played by the excellent Jaclyn Amber, turn disco pop into power ballad magic throughout the show.
Zachary Allen Farmer lends simple majesty as King Basilius, and Carrie Wenos Priesmeyer is almost imperceptibly mad as Queen Gynecia. A few of the songs seem a little too low for her vocal register, but look for a strong resemblance to Lee Grant in the subtle comic hauteur of her performance: she is kookily ruffled by the unexpected, but never raveled by it. And we're grateful that thoughtful, energetic comic perfectionist Aaron Allen is on hand as the king's fool Dametas.
Head over Heels runs through March 28, 2020, at New Line Theatre, Marcelle Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepherd Drive, St. Louis MO. For tickets and information, please visit their website at www.newlinetheatre.com.
The New Line Band
The Artistic Staff: