CRANFORD, NJ — “It was incredible,” raved Livingston resident Talia Scheckman, after watching “Head Over Heels” when it debuted at the Cranford Dramatic Club Theatre this past weekend.
“I felt like I would get up and dance,” she added. “I loved it.”
The CDC Theatre was packed with audience members of all ages who laughed, clapped and cheered throughout the light-hearted, lively show, which ended all too soon.
“Head Over Heels” is a hilarious love story that takes place in the 16th century, in a kingdom called Arcadia. The story follows the escapades of a royal family on an outrageous journey to save their beloved kingdom from extinction — only to discover the key to their realm’s survival lies within each of their own hearts.
“It’s a love story between the princess, who falls in love with a shepherd,” explained producer Joe Leo. “Of course, that’s forbidden.”
To win the hand of Princess Philoclea, played by Jordyn Sava, a shepherd named Musidorus, played by Zachary Mazouat, pretends to be an Amazon woman. When Musidorus dons a glamorous blonde wig, everyone is fooled, including the princess herself – not to mention the king who develops feelings for Musidorus.
It’s a fun-filled evening of gender-bending, cross-dressing and a lead non-binary character. The cast and ensemble sing and frolic about the stage, and a gigantic snake delivers prophecies.
Songs by the ’80s pop band, The Go-Go’s, are interwoven into the plot, including “We Got the Beat,” “Mad About You,” “Vacation,” “Our Lips Are Sealed,” “Head Over Heels,” “Turn to You” and “Lust to Love.” The five-piece band that flawlessly delivers these beloved hits is brilliantly conducted by Hannah Elarmo. There are two guitarists, Patrick Callahan and Michelle Marie; a bassist, Laura Abbey; and Jessica Saravia on drums.
The Go-Go’s tunes are appropriate because the play is a love story and so many of The Go-Go’s songs are about love songs and relationships. “It seems to fit very well,” Leo said. “They were such a predominant force in the ’80s of girl power. It [‘Head over Heels’] celebrates women. It’s a show that just really examines the way people can love each other and the trials and tribulations that go with it.”
The majority of the cast wasn’t born when The Go-Go’s were around, so they aren’t as aware of the impact the band made on the music industry. But as for Leo, and Sean E. Lough, the director, they grew up with this music. Nevertheless, the cast learned the songs and loved them.
Aside from the awesome choreography, exquisite set design, authentic wigs and colorful costumes, what is truly special about “Head Over Heels” is that it really shines a light on people’s gender orientation. The original musical opened at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015, opening on Broadway in 2018, and Leo feels it was really ahead of its time.
Mazouat, who brilliantly played Musidorus, the cross-dressing shepherd, said he saw the original show on Broadway and wanted to play that character. “It was so much fun,” he said. Mazouat has been performing in shows at the CDC Theatre since 2012. During the day, he’s an art teacher.
Tasha R. Williams, who played Gynecia, the queen, also said she loved her role and that the play was “amazing.”
Other lead characters in the cast included Sean Lynch-Littlejohn as Basilius, Karen Carratura as Pamela, Michael Kidney as Dametas, Jannette Fisher as Mopsa and David Rivera Jr. as Pythio.
The CDC Theatre, located at 78 Winans Ave., has been around since 1919 and is celebrating its 105th season.
“I feel honored to be a part of this theater that has brought joy to people for so many decades,” Leo said. “This show has been a wonderful labor of love. As a gay man myself, to see a show that celebrates everybody no matter who you are, feel the beat, that’s the heartbeat of the show. It’s the love; it’s there.”
“Head Over Heels” runs at the CDC Theatre through Saturday, Oct. 28. Show dates and times are Oct. 20, 21, 27 and 28, from 8 to 10:15 p.m., and Oct. 22 and 28, from 2 to 4:15 p.m. from For tickets and more information, visit https://www.cdctheatre.org/.
Photos Courtesy of the CDC Theatre and Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta