Warning: contains spoilers for the plot of Head Over Heels.
January 6th, 2019 will go down in history as one of the saddest days Broadway has ever faced. That fateful day (being today of all days) is the day Broadway says goodbye to a handful of very special shows. We’re losing the incredible immersive revival of Once on This Island; the hilarious long-runner The Play That Goes Wrong; the still-relevant revival of Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song; and Head Over Heels, a gay fantasia on national themes set to the music of the Go-Go’s. I loved all of these shows in their own special way, but Head Over Heels is the one I’m saddest to see go.
In my first article for The Theatrical Board, I reviewed Head Over Heels at the very beginning of its Broadway journey. In my journey writing for this site, I found myself returning to the Hudson every few weeks to visit my favorite bunch of Arcadians. As my visits to the show ramped up (closing performance will be number 10 for me), I found myself finding more and more solace and comfort in the world of the show. I love the musical numbers, incredibly charismatic cast, and the hilariously saucy book; but my favorite part of the show - and the part I spend the most time in tears - is the final scene of the show.
It’s an Elizabethan fairy tale, so of course the story has to have an ending full of revelations and miracles. After lying about the prophecy of the oracle for too long and killing the lovesick shepherd Musidorus in a rage, King Basilius forfeits his crown to his queen, Gynecia, whom he believes will rule the kingdom far more fairly than he did. The world goes all “head over heels” and chaos reigns for a while, but in true miraculous fashion, everything returns to order and Musidorus is resurrected by the powerful, renewing heartbeat of the kingdom in peril. The new queen vows to make Arcadia a more tolerant and loving place for all, where everyone can live in harmony - and gives Basilius a second chance to just be her husband. No longer in fear of breaking with patriarchal tradition, Princess Philoclea gets to marry her love Musidorus, who has been in disguise as Amazonian warrior woman Cleophila for much of the show. (Musidorus also comes to the proud realization he’s genderfluid, planning to keep Cleophila around.) Princess Pamela and her handmaiden Mopsa come out as a loving lesbian couple to everyone, including Mopsa’s long-repentant father Dametas, who embraces his daughter’s sexual orientation with pride. Finally, the non-binary oracle Pythio is revealed to be Dametas’ long-lost love Mira, who gave birth to Mopsa (and their new identity in the process) long ago. Dametas wins Pythio back, happily proclaiming, “I’m mad about them!” With everyone reunited and back from the brink, the royal family returns to Arcadia after spending the rest of the show on a wild journey away from the kingdom. They still have their Beat, and they all live happily ever after.
This ending, as bursting with happenstance and happiness as it is, brings tears to my eyes every time I see it. The kingdom of Arcadia is a safe and tolerant place for women and trans folx, and women run the world with justice and love guiding their decisions. By the end of the show, Arcadia is a true intersectional paradise, and it’s all one could ever dream of living in. Tonight, when the lights go up and curtains go down and it’s time to leave the Hudson, we’ll be forced to return to the real world, where a mad fascist imbecile runs the government and women and trans folx are scared for their lives every day. It was a blessing to have had a musical like Head Over Heels on Broadway during some of the scariest moments of this administration. This was the first musical I really felt represented by - A happy non-binary leading character! Multiple happy lesbian leads! - and its loss is going to create a new void in my heart that will be very tough to fill. We didn’t deserve this show, and the cult following it has gained in its short life on Broadway is a testament to how powerful and important the show’s message can be. We need more shows like Head Over Heels, and hopefully, more like it will follow in seasons to come.
(Image by Joan Marcus)