Head Over Heels: McLean’s best show yet

“Head Over Heels” delivers awe-inspiring performance in colorful, modernized take on medievalism

Despite countless last-minute challenges that eventually resulted in the show’s official delay, TheatreMcLean was able to put on an incredible first performance of Head Over Heels on Thursday, April 28. The opening night brought a large crowd of students, family and friends to see TheatreMcLean’s last production of the year, and it marked seniors’ last show. The remaining performances have been postponed to 7 p.m. performances Thursday, May 5, through Saturday, May 7. The delays give all audiences a chance to see a show that can’t be missed.

The musical takes place in a traditional backdrop, with the set, costumes and even dialogue seemingly straight out of a Medieval story tale. The show is complete with a king and queen, princesses, knights and an enthralling sword fight scene. Still, these classic themes are juxtaposed with modern motifs, including LGBTQ+ themes, a plethora of sexual innuendos and contemporary references and humor.

“[The LGBTQ+ themes] are a powerful thing because a lot of people from the community are inspired and fueled by seeing themselves represented on the stage and in media where they haven’t been in the past,” said junior Arielle Else, who plays Princess Pamela. “It’s a really woke show and I think it’s honestly ahead of its time.”

The dynamic can be observed in the plot as well, as the play follows the story of the Kingdom of Arcadia, a fictional kingdom ruled by an endangered orthodox king. Arcadian oracle Pythio warns that the kingdom has become too traditional over time and predicts four prophecies that will befall the royal family. The king desperately tries to prevent the decay of his kingdom, embarking on a journey to prevent the prophecies without realizing that the Kingdom of Arcadia is changing beyond his control.

Music is paired with a soundtrack made entirely from the discography of the 1980s band The Go-Go’s. Extravagant musical elements, stunning choreography and comedic performances truly exemplify what high-fidelity productions the award-winning TheatreMcLean is capable of creating.

“The songs are very daunting when you first hear them,” Else said. “[I thought], ‘I’m going to hurt my voice.’”

The play opened with the song “We Got the Beat” by The Go-Go’s, which was referenced throughout the play with the oracle’s prophecy that the kingdom would lose the “Beat.” The opening scene was a visual and auditory feast for the audience, filled with bright lights, colorful costumes and a catchy song.

The production impressively incorporates modern themes typically avoided in school productions. Pythio, a nonbinary character played by sophomore Norah Treibitz, and the shepherd Musidorus, played by senior Dylan Freeman, explain the importance of accepting others for who they are, regardless of gender identity.

Pythio comes out as nonbinary during the show, receiving positive and encouraging responses from all characters on stage. Musidorus, on the other hand, disguises himself as a female Amazon warrior, switching his gender presentation frequently throughout the musical.

Before the show, Paint Head and junior Allie Mazur incorporated the play’s LGBTQ+ themes into meticulously hand-painted, moving set pieces used to set the scenes.

“[The] first thing we always do is sit down and talk about color schemes and inspirations, we make a presentation and then that’s when the tech heads meet,” Mazur said. “For us, we were inspired by The GoGo’s and wanted to take that color scheme and add LQBTQ+ representation.”

LQBTQ+ themes were prominent within the set pieces, details and even the costumes that were used onstage for the lead roles. In short—this was a mesmerizing performance that was incredibly bright, colorful and energetic from start to finish.

“A lot of LGBTQ+ representation was kind of shown more through clothing, but they showed up in the set too. For Gynesia’s camp tent, we used bi-sexual flag colors, and that’s also represented in her costume,” Mazur said. “It was kind of all a mix all around. For the song ‘Vacation’ [played in the musical] the flower crowns were all a mix of different pride flag colors.”

TheatreMcLean’s attention to detail and perfection was phenomenal. When a positive COVID-19 test forced a sophomore Nathan Bass to fill in for King Basilius, the staff prepared him for the role within a day.

“Nathan wasn’t even the understudy, he was the swing, [meaning] he didn’t know the part,” Simpson said. “So Wednesday, when we were supposed to have previews, we all came into school and drilled lines with him all day… We spent about eight hours on it…we were even running lines backstage in between scenes [during the play].”

The last-minute changes were completely unnoticeable—the end result appeared flawless despite the underlying frenzy. That obsession to detail continued into the costumes, which demonstrated a vast array of handicraft skills.

“Pamela, Mopsa and Phioclea’s dresses were all handmade,” Costume Head and senior Kirsten Lewey said. “We’ve been working on the costumes for the show before the cast list was out. A lot of the skirts are handmade, some of the corsets are handmade. We also made sure to dye everything bright colors.”

TheatreMcLean’s previous show, Airness, was performed entirely in the school’s small black box theater and was only open to close family and friends of the cast and crew. This show returned to the traditional large shows open to the entire community. As it was performed on the school stage, the set had many more components and a larger cast, and the cast and crew made sure to focus on the most noticeable aspects of the production.

“It was a much bigger stage [than Airness] and when you’re on the big stage you have to pay attention to the actors,” said senior Hayden Brockman, a co-head of the set deck. “The background is there to support and build a foundation so they have somewhere to go and it can enhance what they’re doing.”

Many set designers, costume designers and behind-the-scenes artists doubled as ensemble actors in the energetic performance, adding variety and interest to the show. Junior Addison Nichols was a member of the ensemble.

“We’re used to fill the scenes and make the show complete. We had to learn almost every single song in the show and even if you can’t see the ensemble onstage, we were singing offstage,” Nichols said.

TheatreMcLean performed an inspirational show, complete with admirable acting and intricate sets. In-school previews of the show on April 27 were canceled, making it even more impressive that the April 28 show executed so smoothly.

“[Opening night] was the first time we had an audience,” said junior Miranda Simpson, who played the role of Princess Philoclea. “So it was definitely more nerve-wracking, because in previews you get to test out how you are in front of an audience and that opportunity was taken away from us.”

After opening night, another cast member tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the show to be postponed to the end of this week. Despite the delay, the show will hopefully still hold up its astounding performance and continue to charm McLean audiences, spreading a unique message of acceptance.

“We want to make sure people feel seen,” Mazur said. “[We want them to know] we are here and that we want to represent them…with this show.”