An exercise in extreme mash-up, Slow Burn Theatre Company at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts is finishing up its run this weekend of "Head Over Heels." Its frothy appeal is a bit confounding – how would the 1980s Top 40 tunes of the all-girl rock group the Go-Go's co-exist in a musical whose story takes place in the Elizabethan era? Yes, we're talking 400 years ago when instrumental music played on a box-shaped keyboard called a virginal was the hit of the day.
Slow Burn's Artistic director Patrick Fitzwater never shies away from a challenging musical and "Heels" once again proves this point.
To grasp "Head Over Heels," think "Kinky Boots" meets "Twelfth Night" meets "Tootsie" meets "Xanadu." For Go-Go's fans expecting to see a jukebox musical that captures the girl-band's essence, this isn't it. The source of the story is a 16th-century long prose romance "The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia" by Sir Philip Sidney whose modernization was conceived by Jeff Whitty of "Avenue Q" fame (yes, the show with the puppets) and then adapted by James Magruder. It's an adult fairy tale that addresses gender politics with a message of "it's OK to say (and be) gay" or be whoever the heck you want.
The show's opening number is "We Got the Beat" (the Go Go's song made it to No. 2 on Billboard charts in 1982) where the kingdom of Arcadia is celebrating its "beat" at a summer solstice. The beat in Arcadia is centuries-old tradition: "Keep we all to this steady, perfect beat. Season upon season, year after year, generation after generation." There's the eldest princess who needs to be married and the younger princess who, while in love with the shepherd boy, can't marry him. The kingdom is ruled by a privileged man-child king and his dutiful, but unhappy wife.
"For ages, the beat has ordered our lives, gift from the Gods of their truth it's a sign. The beat heats our grapes and turns them to wine; it threshes our wheat and gives us to dine . . . Arcadians swear . . our beat is divine!" Then swells the music of the Go Go's "We Got the Beat." Somehow it works. Alas, take note that "Head Over Heels" got its premiere in 2015 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
So, herewith we goest back to the plot.
When the king goes to seek the counsel of the Oracle of Delphi, he and his trusty servant are given four events of chaos amid prophecies that will turn Arcadia upside down. Fun ensues, discoveries unfold, and, in the end, all is well in Arcadia. Meanwhile, interspersed in the merriment are Go-Go's hits and some other non-chart toppers. The recognizable "Vacation," "Our Lips Are Sealed," and "Mad About You," pop up throughout. "Mad About You" is the finale reprise, which makes the most sense of all to tie up the story.
The eight main cast members, Robert Koutras as Basilius, King of Arcadia, Sabrina Lynn Gore as Queen Gynecia, Joline Mujica as the eldest daughter, Pamela, Kristi Rose Mills as Philoclea, the younger princess, Matthew W. Korinko as the King's viceroy, Nate Promkul as the shepherd boy, Reanne Acasio as Pamela's lady in waiting, and Darius J. Manuel as Pythio, the Oracle of Delphi, are the perfect ensemble. That's exactly what this show needs to keep it humming along – a cast that buys in to the total farce and fantasy. It is what makes the audience want to play along, too. Fitzwater's direction keeps the group close knit – and it is the right choice.
Also merrily helping to keep things grooving is the five-piece all-female band led by musical director Caryl Fantel who are high above the stage and within view. Lana Wise and Lenore Goldman play guitars while Martha Spangler is on bass and Julie Jacobs keeps the beat on drums. They are equally stars of the show.
Shannon Mullen's choreography (and there is a lot of dance) features some non-intricate moves for different skill-leveled dancers and the hard-working supporting ensemble never once stops having fun. Mullen is part of the dance troupe along with Benjamin Shaevitz, Jerel Brown, Lauren Horgan, Meagan Nagy, Nicole Kinzel, Reynel Reynaldo, and Ryan Michael James.
Costume designer Lenora Nikitin, whose Instagram says her company specializes in making circus costumes, finds the right groove here – over-the-top meets 1600s. Her designs, especially in the opening scenes, are spectacular. Fitzwater is credited for the wigs.
The messages are on-topic for our nation and state's current state-of-affairs proving that despite the age-old ideas that conforming to norms is the best path, new roads taken can lead to tolerance and acceptance. As Arcadia's king discovers, it doesn't mean the world will come crashing down.
WHAT: Slow Burn Theatre Company's "Head Over Heels"
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, June 23, 24 and 25; 1 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, June 25 and 26.
WHERE: Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Amaturo Theater, 201 SW 5 th
Ave., Fort Lauderdale
COST: $49, $57.50, $65; ($25 student and teacher tickets with valid ID.) Tickets: ticketmaster.com.
INFORMATION: 954-462-0222; browardcenter.org.