By Moira Armstrong
There’s a revolution brewing onstage at the Hudson Theatre – but you’d never know it from the production photos. Head Over Heels has all the markings of a classic Broadway musical: comedy-period costumes, bright sets illuminated with flashy lighting, and upbeat jukebox numbers with fun choreography. It follows three simultaneous and hilarious plots: the princesses Philoclea and Pamela’s searches for love, King Basilius and Queen Gynecia’s marriage, and the oracle Pythio’s doomsday prophecy about the kingdom of Arcadia. However, behind the glitter and glitz lies an important message of acceptance and unrivaled representation.
Theatre has always provided more LGBTQ+ stories than most other mediums, ranging from the AIDS-era works of Larry Kramer to Be More Chill’s “totally bi” Rich Goranski. However, despite different characters and storylines, one element connects most musicals with LGBTQ+ plotlines: a tragic end. The two Kevins break up. Hanschen and Ernst never had a chance. Angel and Whizzer die, and Prior Walter struggles desperately against his illness. But Head Over Heels shows that there’s another way. Not only do the women break the white male mold of most gay characters, but they also receive that elusive happy ending. Though they belong to entirely different classes as a princess and her lady-in-waiting, and live in a time where they don’t even have a word to describe how they feel about each other, Princess Pamela and Mopsa live happily ever after. They even offer solidarity to Pamela’s sister Philoclea and her always-in-drag boyfriend Musidorus.
But unlike most musicals, Head Over Heels doesn’t stop at representing different sexualities. The creators take another step and include a non-cisgender character. Yes, we have the drag queens of Kinky Boots, Hedwig and her Yitzhak, and the iconic Frank N. Furter. But unfortunately, the only officially non-binary name in the running is Jo of Jagged Little Pill – which hasn’t even reached Broadway. That is, until Head Over Heels’ Pythio arrives in a cloud of smoke and snakes, immediately declaring their pronouns and demanding that their subjects comply. Pythio is a powerful presence for whom being nonbinary is simply a fact, not a plot point. Additionally, Peppermint of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame portrays this character, turning them into the first Broadway role originated by a black and transgender actress.
Head Over Heels has struggled at the box office as of late, with theatergoers skipping it in favor of more popular or critically acclaimed titles – but it deserves our attention because it represents minorities within a minority and presents these people with both dignity and warmth. Any audience member can connect with the unrequited love of Pamela and Mopsa and feel awed by Pythio, no matter their gender or sexuality. And in a time when connecting with, accepting, and loving each other isn’t commonplace, Head Over Heels is a musical we desperately need. So if you’re able, head over to the Hudson Theatre and enjoy this joyful show.