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‘Head Over Heels’ review: Go-Go’s jukebox musical has not ‘got the beat’

Star performances from Bonnie Milligan and Peppermint are the best part of the Broadway show.

Peppermint (center) as Pythio, The Oracle of Delphi,

Peppermint (center) as Pythio, The Oracle of Delphi, in "Head Over Heels." Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

‘Head Over Heels’ plays an open run at the Hudson Theatre. 141 W. 44th St., 141 W. 44th St., headoverheelsthemusical.com.

Um, no. Contrary to the affirmatively cheery chant of its opening number, “Head Over Heels,” a new jukebox musical on Broadway in which the hit songs of the all-female 1980s pop-punk band The Go-Go’s are inserted into a ridiculous Elizabethan-era pastiche, has not “got the beat.” That probably got lost long ago in the development of this oddball property.

It’s not too hard to envision a simple but at least workable structure for a Go-Go’s jukebox musical. It could have been about a “Good Girl” who goes on “Vacation” and falls “Head Over Heels” for a “Cool Jerk.”

Better yet, they could have done a biographical musical in the style of “Jersey Boys.” After all, the Go-Go’s have undergone a dramatic rise-and-fall-and-rebirth saga over the years, leaving plenty to work with.

Nevertheless, the creators of “Head Over Heels” (including co-producer Gwyneth Paltrow) clearly wanted to be as trendy as possible in the patently unoriginal and limited context of a jukebox musical.

Directed by Michael Mayer, this baffling concoction (based on Philip Sidney’s long and challenging 16th century work “Arcadia”) contains court masque-style painted scenery, dialogue in iambic pentameter, tacky dance choreography and an ostentatious dress code combining courtly period and downtown club attire.

The show’s juxtaposing concept brings to mind “Spring Awakening” (also directed by Mayer), in which a late 19th century German drama about teen angst and repression was combined with contemporary-style rock songs. But where “Spring Awakening” worked brilliantly well, “Head Over Heels” misfires. In fact, the songs suffer from the new context, with their bright and propulsive energy dampened.

When “Head Over Heels” premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015, it had a book by Jeff Whitty (“Avenue Q”). But when Mayer subsequently took over as director, Whitty left the project, leaving James Magruder to adapt his original book.

The show’s spirit is best exemplified in casting Bonnie Milligan, who gives a breakout, personality-infused performance as a royal princess, and Peppermint as a divine, diva-like oracle. With the role, the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” star makes history as the first openly trans woman to create a principal role on Broadway. The storytelling, although extremely muddled, also celebrates same-sex love and equality.

Andrew Durand (“The Robber Bridegroom”) and Alexandra Socha (“Spring Awakening”) are cute and vulnerable (but also underwhelming) as the lead romantic couple, who are torn apart by class division. On the other hand, Rachel York (“Disaster!”) and Jeremy Kushnier (“Footloose”) give nice comic turns as the king and queen, who enjoy a secret romantic rendezvous conveyed through shadow puppetry.

During curtain call, it is revealed that the musical’s previously unseen rock band consists entirely of women. A Go-Go’s cover band concert with them as the stars would have been far more preferable to “Head Over Heels.”

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