Footlight's "Head Over Heels" is the rare jukebox musical you can get behind 

Pythio forever

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I'm not usually a fan of jukebox musicals. Now ubiquitous among Broadway debuts, the format only really has two roads: Either you take the works of an established artist and give a biographical roadmap of their lives and careers (your Cher Show and your Boys from Oz), or you collect the works of an artist or era and squeeze them into a frequently flimsily fitting original story (Mamma Mia and Rock of Ages).

I am, however, a fan of a good time at the theater.

And I'm willing to admit that despite my reservations about the genre, Footlight Players have a real crowd pleaser on their hands with Head Over Heels. High production values, killer choreography, and a fun ensemble are more than enough to outweigh any grumbles.

The musical assemblage for Head Over Heels comes from the catalog of new wave '80s band The Go-Go's. Prepare to have hits like "We've Got the Beat," "Vacation," "Mad About You," and "Heaven is a Place on Earth" stuck in your head for the rest of the evening. If you're a fan, you're in for a good night. If not, maybe hearing the songs wrapped up in a fun farce by Jeff Whitty will help them go down easier.

Loosely based on Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney, the music of The Go-Go's frames the tale of a kingdom famous for their Beat, and the prophecy that would see them lose it. Their fearful king (Xan Rogers) takes the kingdom on a pilgrimage through the woods to avoid the effects of the prophecy. Lovers are united, identities are mistaken, and marriages come when it's all said and done.

You'd be forgiven for thinking the plot was one of the lost Shakespeare comedies (the language is even highly reminiscent of the Bard). What sets Head Over Heels apart from those classic stories and gives it a contemporary feel are its strong LGBTQ themes. Same-sex relationships and transgender topics are explored and discussed (though that latter not quite as in-depth unfortunately). Love and inclusion are what's missing in Arcadia, and the play finds both in equal measure.

The story is fun and allows for the inclusion of some 20 songs from the band, better than a lot of jukebox musicals manage. What helps it all go down easier is the exciting choreography by Nakeisha Daniel. It's mostly handled by the six skilled, engaging, and talented ensemble members: Jenny Bettke, Lydia Brown, Malachi Cleveland, Jonathan Harper, Imani Lloyd, and Marissa Rothfarb — all worthy of the name drop.

The rest of the 14-member cast joins in as well. Some of the numbers are absolutely flooded with movement, but none of it ever comes off as cluttered or difficult for the eye to process. It also never feels out of place for the number, and in fact it is missed in a few of the numbers where it is absent.

Also of note here is the collection of voices director Kyle Barnette has assembled. This cast sounds great together. The aforementioned ensemble is great backing most numbers, and then there are the solo turns by Rebecca Weatherby's Philoclea and Madelyn Knight's Pamela. Duets between Weatherby and leading man Michael Okas (Musidorus) are sweet. Everyone sounds good here, which is a shout to music director Kay Thorn.

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  • Smallwood
Thorn is also the cast MVP, playing the oracle Pythio. It is Pythio who makes the prophecy that sets events into motion. They steal every single scene they are in. Every. Single. One. And wait until you hear/see "Vision of Nowness." It's a truly beautiful number, bolstered by some of the most imaginative and exciting costumes in the entire show. In fact, Pythio doesn't have a single costume that isn't a memorable one. And Thorn is hilarious, fierce, and captivating throughout. Just, Pythio forever.

Michael Smallwood is an actor, writer, director, and teacher. He is a core member at PURE Theatre.

He is a two-time KCACTF award-winning playwright. His film credits include the Emmy-winning CBS series
The Inspectors, the Netflix original movie Naked, and Halloween (2018).

He has been a contributor to the
Charleston City Paper and Post and Courier since 2010.

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