Monumental Theatre is providing DC-area audiences with a first look at the jukebox musical comedy Head Over Heels. The production features nearly two dozen musical numbers from The Go-Go’s propelling a sixteenth-century fantasy.
If you are less familiar with The Go-Go’s, they formed in 1978 and were the first all-female band to top the charts for both writing and playing their own original music. And they continue touring, including this summer.
Head Over Heels takes its plot from a 16th-century poem by Sir Philip Sidney called Arcadia: A kingdom is led by a rather staid King who likes things just as they are. He is comfortable with the “beat” that he knows. But when a fateful prophecy is delivered, the news has him seek a safer place for himself and his family. With the delicious beats and lyrics of The Go-Go’s, the Head Over Heels characters find themselves on journeys of self-discovery.
Their journeys center on equity, inclusion, self-knowledge, and a queer twist as the folks from Monumental explained to me. The Head Over Heels production features a non-binary main character and features several other queer-identified characters and relationships. The director is Jimmy Mavrikes with musical direction by Marika Countouris.
Wanting to learn more about the show and the Monumental productions, I spoke to Rachel Barlaam, who portrays the King’s eldest daughter Pamela, and Adelina Mitchell who portrays Pamela’s handmaiden Mopsa. Their relationship is a key in Head Over Heels. What happens if someone “follows” their inclinations? Head Over Heels takes an audience through answers with The Go-Go’s music guiding the way.
David: What about the show appeals to younger and older generations?
Rachel: I love that Head Over Heels tackles a lot of contemporary issues and themes that younger audiences are able to relate to and understand. This show is truly about self-discovery and acceptance and will hopefully lead to many important post-show conversations, especially between generations! This show calls attention to non-binary and trans characters, loving human beings regardless of gender or social class, body positivity, and breaking down the barriers of a patriarchy. The Go-Go’s were also so iconic in the 1980s, I’m sure the music will appeal to those who listened to them during that time period as well.
Adelina: No matter how old or young you are, the content of the production is very compelling. What I love about Head Over Heels is that it tells a story through Shakespearean-style verse that audiences can relate to. It covers significant themes such as self-discovery, fighting for the person you love, and smashing the patriarchy — just to name a few. Not to mention that this show is hilarious. Even if some of the many themes fly over your head, you’ll be entertained from the start no matter who you are!
Are there are similarities between what is happening in the world now and what was happening when The Go-Go’s were popular that are reflected in the musical?
Rachel: I love that The Go-Go’s were the first all-female band to top the charts for both writing and playing their original music. As a result, The Go-Go’s became a strong and beautiful representation of female empowerment. One of the main themes that Head Over Heels tackles is smashing the patriarchy and bringing change to a traditional society. As a group, The Go-Go’s brought attention to sexism within the music industry and paved the way for other female bands. There are a few characters within this show who make positive changes within the town of Arcadia by paving their own paths as well and creating new rules.
Adelina: Ummm, absolutely! First of all, from what I understand is that when The Go-Go’s were popular, they used their platform for advocacy and fought for equality — equality in the workspace between genders and specifically equality for all LGBTQ humans. Although we have progressed since the ’80s, it’s very apparent that we are still fighting for some of the same equality issues 40 years later. This idea of gender and LGBTQ rights is beautifully covered in Head Over Heels. I’m very excited to see how audiences react!
How does this show take older music and make it into something new?
Rachel: Each Go-Go’s song in the show is uniquely arranged and orchestrated by Tom Kitt to include an entire ensemble of singers. Many of the songs feature intricate harmonies that are different from the original tracks. A lot of songs feature belting and riffing. The difficult belting definitely gives the score a more musical theater sound at times, while also keeping a sense of ’80s rock. One of my songs, “Automatic Rainy Day,” has a bit of a riff battle at the end of it between Pamela and Mopsa. It’s so much fun to perform! Music Director Marika Countouris has given us the freedom to add our own vocal touches and riffs throughout, which definitely modernizes this music as well. We can’t wait for you to hear it!
Adelina: What’s really cool about this musical is that even if you consider yourself to be a superfan of The Go-Go’s, the way the music is used is far from predictable. The writers did a great job with plugging in the songs you know and love into a story. The Go-Go’s wrote lyrics in the ’80s that are such a strong device for storytelling today. Tom Kitt, the orchestrator, also rearranged the music to bring a more contemporary feel to the score while still making sure the music is still recognizable classics.
With her musical direction, Marika Countouris adds the “something new” for all of you who are already familiar with Head Over Heels. She not only gives us the freedom to come up with new things to add with to the score, but is also very stylized and understands with this music comes great responsibility to serve it justice.
Head Over Heels runs from March 5 through March 23, 2020, at the Ainslie Arts Center on the campus of Episcopal High School — located at 3900 West Braddock Road, Alexandria, VA. Tickets can be purchased online