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Pasadena Playhouse to reopen with reimagined Go-Go’s musical ‘Head Over Heels’

Five women lean into each other
Band members Kathy Valentine, Belinda Carlisle, Gina Schock, Charlotte Caffey and Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go’s, photographed in the L.A. Times Studio at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 25, 2020, in Park City, Utah.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

The Pasadena Playhouse has got the beat: The regional theater will kick off its 2021-22 season with a reimagining of “Head Over Heels,” the musical comedy featuring the hits of the Go-Go’s.

This “Head Over Heels,” running Nov. 9 through Dec. 12, won’t be a replica of Michael Mayer’s 2018 Broadway production, which sets songs like “Our Lips Are Sealed,” “Vacation” and “Mad About You” to the story of Philip Sidney’s 16th-century prose poem “Arcadia.” Instead, the Playhouse staging trims the running time to an intermission-less 90 minutes (while keeping the majority of the songs intact) and swaps a medieval setting for that of a concert not unlike the shows that made the band a mainstay of the Los Angeles punk rock scene. And it will put the audience at the center of the action, with immersive and interactive elements.

It’s a bold pick, especially amid a pandemic.

“Our world has changed dramatically because of COVID: the loss of people, of social connectivity, of missed opportunities and what we thought last year and this year would have been,” said Danny Feldman, Pasadena Playhouse producing artistic director. “Restarting the engine with our pre-pandemic lens just didn’t feel right to me. Instead, it’s about looking at ourselves as a cultural institution and how we can engage with audiences and theater altogether in new ways.”

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The jukebox musical — which will be directed, choreographed and conceived by Jenny Koons and Sam Pinkleton — centers on the crises of a royal family.

“At the core of this show is a group of people who discover they are missing something and go on a search, only to find that the thing they were missing was in each other all along,” said Koons. “It felt like the perfect thing for this moment, because it’s a party that reminds people of the possibilities of themselves and the world.”

Los Angeles Philharmonic is the latest to require proof of full vaccination, with no exception based on personal or religious beliefs.

With a cast of just eight and a five-piece band, the site-specific reimagining will include a completely new arrangement that includes traditional theater seating, couches onstage and a standing-room area for audience members to dance throughout the show. Ticket holders can get as involved in the action as they prefer.

“The whole thing is created through the spirit of consent and hospitality, from start to finish, whether that means you want to sit in a seat with your grandparents and have the best time or you want to be on the dance floor the whole time, or something in between,” Pinkleton said.

Plus, the performers won’t be limited to a traditional proscenium stage. “Every seat is actually the best seat,” Pinkleton added. “It destroys the aristocracy model of theater seating.” If you think you have a terrible seat one minute, he said, five minutes later, you’re like, “Only I saw that."

The Playhouse will require all patrons to be vaccinated and wear masks inside the theater. Ticket holders under 12 or those who need a reasonable accommodation for medical conditions or sincerely held religious beliefs must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to entering the venue.

Additionally, the Playhouse is equipped with a new air-conditioning system that meets UL “Healthy Building” standards. And “while ‘dance club’ is the vibe, it’s not necessarily a sweaty, packed, pre-pandemic dance club; it’s more of an environment where everyone is still distancing and can still feel safe,” Feldman said.

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Five people sing onstage
Lin-Manuel Miranda, left, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Anthony Veneziale, Chris Sullivan and Aneesa Folds are some of the performers of “Freestyle Love Supreme” on Broadway.
(Joan Marcus)

The Pasadena season also will include the Los Angeles premieres of “Teenage Dick” (Feb. 1–27), Mike Lew’s modern take on Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel; “Ann” (March 23-April 24) Holland Taylor’s solo show about former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, directed by Benjamin Endsley Klein; and “Freestyle Love Supreme” (July 12-Aug. 7), the hip-hop improv show from the creators of “Hamilton” set to receive a special Tony Award next month. A fifth show will be announced at a later date.

“This isn’t just a new season; it’s the first season of the ‘new world,’” Feldman said. “I’m excited, frankly, by what others are doing both here in L.A. and around the country, because this is what we’ve all been talking about. This is the moment when we’re going to start seeing what has come out of all of everything that’s happened, and that is thrilling to me.”


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