With high-energy hits from the all-female rock band The Go-Go’s, a 14-foot turntable on stage, and outrageous Tudor England-meets-the-1980s costumes, ISU Theatre’s musical “Head Over Heels” will be a joy-filled feast for the eyes and ears.
Opening Friday, Oct. 27, at 7:30 p.m. in Fisher Theater, this laugh-out-loud love story is a modern fairy tale. Audiences will join the royal family of Arcadia on their journey to save their beloved kingdom, accompanied by a soundtrack of songs such as “We Got the Beat,” “Our Lips Are Sealed,” “Vacation,” Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven is a Place on Earth,” and “Mad About You.”
“Head Over Heels” is co-directed by Department of Music and Theatre Chair Brad Dell and guest artist-in-residence Laura Wurzell, a Pittsburgh-based professional choreographer and director with numerous musical theatre credits.
“I was beyond excited at the opportunity to co-direct with Brad at Iowa State,” Wurzell said. “We worked together in the Pittsburgh area well before he arrived at ISU and recognized that we connected creatively in a rather unique way. Also, I was very excited to work on a show I had never done or seen produced. I love the ‘blank slate’ this provides at the start of a collaboration.”
With a plot adapted from a 16th-century pastoral romance, “Head Over Heels” is an upbeat blend of comedic and heartfelt moments, Wurzell said, and the cast delivers on those elements.
“The students, both onstage and off, are talented, clearly trained in collaboration, genuinely supportive of each other, and are going to deliver some surprising performances on the Fisher stage,” she said.
Annika Baker, senior in performing arts, plays the role of Pamela, the eldest daughter of the royal family of Arcadia, who in Baker’s words, is a “bit of a brat.”
“Pamela is larger than life at every moment,” Baker said. “Nothing she does is small. The most fun part about this role has been the encouragement I have received to make everything more. Brad and Laura have been so wonderful about letting everyone make bold choices and try things. It is so freeing to not have to feel like you are doing it ‘correctly’ and just have fun!”
Bringing The Go-Go’s musical hits to life on stage is one of the cast’s biggest challenges, Baker said.
“Almost all of the vocal ranges in this show are two plus octaves and require a lot of jumping between registers and styles,” Baker said. “Especially for the romantic couples, this show is a heavy lift vocally, and I’m so grateful that we have such an amazing cast that can do it.”
‘Unmatched’ creative design
“Head Over Heels” also features many larger-than-life design elements, such as a 14-foot turntable created by Brian Seckfort, theatre specialist and scenic designer, and Zachary Hodgson, senior in performing arts and assistant scenic designer. The turntable is present in nearly every musical number and sometimes doubles as a giant music box and a forest.
“The creative team at Iowa State is unmatched,” Wurzell said. “The sets, costumes, lights, props, puppets, and everything else will be a visual feast for the theatregoers’ eyes. And Patrick Gagnon’s music will rock The Go-Go’s to the point you will all be singing them on the way home.”
Kelly Marie Schaefer, teaching professor of theatre and costume designer for the show, described the costumes as “an exciting mash-up” of Tudor England and the 1980s.
“I am taking the most outrageous and fun fashion elements from each era and combining them into one look,” she said. “We will have the big shoulders from the 80s mixed with the poufy short pants of the Tudors. We will see pegged jeans and Chuck Taylor sneakers mixed with embroidered doublets and ruffled collars. We also have a character modeled after a drag queen who appears in costumes that give the impression of a snake, an owl, and an Egyptian goddess. This over-the-top style fits right in with the bright colors and oversized looks from the 80s.”
Celebrating one’s beat
While its costuming and design may be hyper-specific, “Head Over Heels” shares universal themes that span time. Wurzell said the show will help explore the conflict of conforming to society’s identity or ‘beat’ and celebrating one’s individual ‘beat.’
“The Arcadians are trying to preserve their ‘beat’ at all costs but learn something about themselves along the way,” she said.
Baker said she hopes the show communicates the importance of unconditional love within a community.
“This story is about a close-knit family and community that only learns how to truly love each other once they learn to love themselves, and I have felt so blessed to be able to work with the group we have on this piece,” Baker said. “Every cast and crew member is so incredibly hardworking and wonderful to be around and makes me feel so lucky to share the space with them to tell these stories.”
Performances are Oct. 27, Oct. 28, Nov. 2, and Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m., and Oct. 29 and Nov. 5 at 3:00 p.m. in Fisher Theater. Tickets are general admission; $25 for adults and free for Iowa State students and youth. This show contains adult language and content. For ticket information, visit theatre.iastate.edu.