The Footlight Players presents 'Head Over Heels'

The Footlight Players opens its season with "Head Over Heels," a musical featuring songs by The Go-Gos. Provided 

I've often been gently advised against overthinking things and am the first to cop to varying levels of success with this counsel. 

However, "Head Over Heels," the season opening of The Footlight Players that is directed by Kyle Barnette, is so unapologetic in its silliness that even a chronic navel-gazer like myself had no choice but to abandon all mope.

I opted instead to indulge in the froth and fun of a modern-day musical featuring the not-so-of-the-moment music of The Go-Go's, the all-female new wave band who broke onto the scene in the 1980s when MTV was the shiny new toy of the music industry.

Sillier still is the show's premise, which strings together songs like "We Got the Beat" and "Our Lips Are Sealed" in Jeff Whitty's adaptation of the 16th century "The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia," wherein a royal court comes undone by twists of fate and gender-bending. 

I was skeptical. The set, which is notably low on spectacle, makes up for modest production values with a liberal use of neon paint to compliment an equally DayGlo-clad cast. Mostly, I just couldn't glean how the pop score and Medieval story were going to cohere into something beyond a head-scratching hot mess.

By the second act, the sheer force of collective buy-in from the talented, energized cast infused that beat in me. I delighted in the unexpected woman-to-woman romance between a cossetted princess named Pamela (Madelyn Knight) and her lady-in-waiting Mopsa (Ariana Snowden). Knight, after all, is a comedic killer, and both performers were such a pleasure on the ears that I felt the cerebral thaw.

Then there was the utter charm of those in the roles of the paramours. The princess's sister Philoclea is played by the vocally gifted, slip of ingenue Rebecca Weatherby. The pining shepherd Musidorus is a treat thanks to the phenomenally funny Michael Okas, who dons blond braids to disguise as an Amazon to get the girl.

Rounding out the coterie of star-crossed lovers is the booming King Basilus (Xan Rogers) and his queen, Gynecia (Sara Allende), who bring much mirth and musicality to their romantic dynamics. But when it comes to show-stealers, Kay Thorn as the Cobra-coiffed Pythio takes the stage, delivering both in song and stage presence. 

Thorn, it should be noted, is also musical director for the show. Those contributions, along with the well-executed choreography of Nakeisha Daniel, come together in polished renditions of pop hits that certainly have the beat. The standout "Good Girl" features Knight, Snowden and Weatherby, and others such as "Vacation" and the reprise of "Vision of Nowness/Beautiful" cheers, too.

The songs, which were accompanied by a five-piece band and include songs from former Go-Go's member, Belinda Carlisle, demonstrate with verve and unflappable merriment how performances can elevate a show that by its own lyrics aims to be "untethered to gender."

Granted such permission to get out of my head, I was quite unexpectedly over heels with the defiantly non-serious notion of letting go and getting Go-Go's on a Friday night. 

It was thus fitting to then take in those first twinkles of the musical bug by way of Midtown Productions' "Matilda," which I saw the following evening with my 6-year-old daughter in tow. Let it be known that we are "Matilda"-heads in our household, having read aloud the Roald Dahl novel that inspired the musical, whose book is by Dennis Kelly and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin.

Directed by Ryan C. Ahlert, the production represents a first time that the company folds in its youth program with a main stage offering. And, while the cast may not have collective vocal star power, it packs enough comic charge to keep a 6-year-old rapt well beyond bedtime. 

In another gender flip, the very horrible headmistress Agatha Trunchbull is portrayed with laugh-out-loud nastiness by Carlos Nieto, eliciting many a cackle from young audience members. As Matilda's parents, the Wormwoods, Andrea Catangay and Michael Catangay, were plausibly odious and ridiculous. Susie Hallatt lent both Scottish brogue and well-paced likability to her portrayal of the librarian Mrs. Phelps, which helped propel the somewhat belabored storytelling scenes. Elizabeth Ludlam's Miss Honey was sweet, indeed.

Of course, the show hangs in the balance of its main role, Matilda. The impressive Lacy Burbage was a lovely, determined little brainiac, bringing to the stage some terrific vocal staying power and performance chops.

Call-outs are also in order for Aiden Ball as Bruce Bogtrotter, Mia Bott as Lavender and Elyse Lang as Nigella.

With Charleston's emerging players honing their skills and bringing on the noise and the spunk, here's hoping such efforts will afford us all many chances to be head over heels from the power of performance.

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Follow Maura Hogan on Twitter at @msmaurahogan.

Maura Hogan is the arts critic at The Post and Courier. She has previously written about arts, culture and lifestyle for The New York Times, Gourmet, Garden & Gun, among other publications.

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