Among the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s summer openings, the funniest by far is the world premiere of the musical, “Head Over Heels,” at the Allen Elizabethan Theatre.
With a script by Jeff Whitty, author of the Tony-winning “Avenue Q,” and music and lyrics by the Go-Go’s, the wildly popular female band from the eighties, the much-anticipated show is hilarious, enticing and touching.
The opening night audience fell head over heels for it from the moment actor John Tufts sauntered across the stage and verbally seduced us in the guise of an Elizabethan punk Fool. Oh, we knew we were in good hands.
The script, based on a work called “Arcadia,” written by Sir Philip Sidney in the 1580s, is an eccentric mixture of fairy tale, Shakespearean-style wit and funny jokes about the birth of gay rights.
The Duke of Arcadia and his wife, amusingly played by Michael Sharon and Miriam Laube, love each other but the spark has cooled. The splendid Bonnie Milligan portrays their beautiful, delightfully BIG older daughter Pamela, who has countless suitors but they don’t suit her. Sweet-voiced Tala Ashe, as the obedient, slender daughter Philoclea, is considered plain. Her only suitor, played by Dylan Paul, is a charming young shepherd, whom she loves, but he’s UNsuitable.
The household contains a bevy of singing and dancing servants with stylish blue or green hair, plus Mopsa, the sensible companion of the daughters, and her doting father, the Duke’s retainer.
When a loud-mouthed Oracle predicts disasters if the family doesn’t leave Arcadia, they hit the road for gay Bohemia. The ensuing adventures lead the characters toward personal discovery, acceptance and tolerance.
Under the clever direction of Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, the seemingly predictable action results in surprising twists. The Go-Go’s have refashioned their hits to well serve the plot, and the songs are always captivating.
With spectacular scenery, lighting and costumes, the show seems destined for Broadway. Yes, the script needs polishing, but given a little time it will shine.
Even now, the singing and dancing are first-rate and the outstanding cast has created thoroughly endearing characters.
Just go. You’ll be happy.