somethin’ special on the record player.
It’s got the Go-Go’s.
Well . . . it has a bunch of Go-Go songs, if not the actual 1980’s all-female punk-pop band, but either way, the music is so good even Shakespeare would be dancing.
He, after all, was a big believer in love.
And so is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where – two whole weeks before the historic ruling making same-sex marriage legal all over the country – the popular Ashland-based festival unveiled “Head Over Heels,” a joyously love-affirming musical by Tony-winner Jeff Whitty, the guy behind the hit musical Avenue Q. Anyone wanting to celebrate a new engagement or legally-sanctioned wedding might want to hit the road to Oregon and snap up some tickets to this outrageously creative, gleefully uplifting world premiere show.
Directed by Ed Silvanus Iskandar, “Head Over Heels” takes a bunch of the Go-Go’s greatest hits and spreads them throughout Whitty’s clever comic adaptation of the forgotten Elizabethan pastoral romance The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia. The original play was written in the 1600s by the poetry-penning soldier Phillip Sydney, a member of Queen Elizabeth’s court till he was banned for dueling – and for daring to propose marriage to the queen. In exile, he wrote his play, snappily reinterpreted as a big bright burlesque about forbidden love.
Basilius is the King of Arcadia. When he gets a prophecy predicting the collapse of his kingdom and the disruption of his family, he does what any fictional ruler of the Elizabethan era would do – he packs up his court, his wife, and his two daughters, and heads out to the forest to wait for it all to blow over. There in the wide arms of mother nature, of course, a series of confusions and collisions ensue, most of them revolving around the character of Musidorus, a lovesick young shepherd boy pining for the king’s youngest daughter. Musidorus disguises himself as an amazon woman to be admitted to the King’s company in the forest.
And almost immediately . . . everyone falls in love with him . . . uh, her.
All of this confuses some characters and leads others to a number of much-needed self-discoveries, the end result being that the King’s definition of love – and everyone’s ideas about the purpose of marriage – get a well-timed overhaul by the end of the play.
The way Whitty and his musical arranger have integrated the songs into the story is nothing short of brilliant. Whether translated into English Madrigals, doo-wop quartets, or slinky rock-and-roll tangos, the song’s lyrics move the action along, nicely revealing the inner lives of the characters just as if the songs had been written with the show in mind.
It’s all goofy, giddy fluff, yes – but its sweet, irresistible, ingenious fluff. And as the many happy Americans who finally get to meet their soul-mates at the altar will tell you, sometimes, nothing is better than a bit of fluffy sweetness – and a big old dance party – to celebrate the end of a long, hard journey.
“Head Over Heels” runs through October 10 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. www.OSFAshland.org
I’m David Templeton, Second Row Center, for KRCB