By Guest Author Katie Priest
Kokandy Productions’ Chicago premiere of Head Over Heels opened last weekend to a full house, just six months after the conclusion of its Broadway run. The upbeat musical comedy based on Sir Philip Sidney’s The Arcadia (a long prose pastoral published in the 16th century) was created by Avenue Q’s Jeff Whitty and adapted by James Magruder.
Running more than two hours with a brief intermission, the production features the iconic music of The Go-Gos and manages to remain engaging and provocative for its entirety—perhaps due to the lively audience that filled nearly every seat on opening night.
While Sir Philip Sidney proclaimed that his only intentions for his play were to entertain his sister, the Countess of Pembroke, his production lives well beyond those confines in the fresh treatment by the Kokandy cast and direction by Derek Van Barham and Elizabeth Swanson. The show features a radiant and attractive cast that delivers many messages from self-love to gender and sexual fluidity to lasting change and acceptance in a fun and sexy performance.
Head Over Heels features a royal family in the midst of chaos. Driven to the ultimate quest by an Oracle’s four catastrophic prophecies, the Kingdom of Arcadia is forced out of its comfort zone. Reluctantly led by the rigid King Basilius (Frankie Leo Bennett), Arcadia sends a message of a middle finger to the patriarchy. Basilius’ two daughters, Pamela (Bridget Adams-King) and Philoclea (Caitlyn Cerza) disregard his wishes. The elder (Pamela) dismisses the many suitors he sends her way, and the younger continues to explore the unsuitable shepherd Musidorus (Jeremiah Alsop) as an Amazonian goddess warrior. Perhaps worst of all is his own realization that he may be unfit for the crown. After the quest comes full circle, the king’s lust for his wife Gynecia (Liz Norton) is restored inwhat the couple thinks is adultery but what is them rediscovering one another’s bodies in the dark. Out of fear of losing the town’s beat, the king loses sight of his own domain and the people within it, and admits that he has not known his own community. He relinquishes his crown.
Adams-King, Cerza, Alsop, and the self-identified nonbinary plural Oracle, Pythio (Parker Guidry), steal the show with their vocal talents and humorous styles, as well as their exploration and discovery of sexual and gender fluidity. The eclectically queer show has something for everyone, and is an emotional rollercoaster that will have you dancing home, likely with a revived love for the Go-Gos.
Kokandy completes this unique celebration of love with a set designed by Chris Rhoton, stunning costume design by Uriel Gomez, energetic choreography by Breon Arzell, and Kyra Leigh’s propelling music direction.
Kokandy Productions’ Head Over Heels will play through August 25 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets are $40 for Thursdays–Sundays at www.kokandyproductions.com, by calling 773-975-8150, or in person at the Theater Wit box office. Students and seniors are $35. Kokandy Productions is partnering with TodayTix to offer $15 mobile rush tickets beginning at 9am each performance day through the TodayTix app.
Katie Priest recently returned home to Chicago after receiving her BA in English from the University of Washington in Seattle. She is eager to pursue her long-time passions of reading and writing through the exploration and review of the arts.