Initial casting is being revealed for the Pasadena Playhouse’s production of the Go-Go’s-scored musical comedy “Head Over Heels,” opening in a reconfigured, immersive setting within the storied theater Nov. 19. And for a show that already won some plaudits in its 2018 Broadway run for going head over heels to be LGBTQ-friendly in its themes and casting, the Pasadena version hardly looks to be losing any of that in the rethinking.
The show’s two more mature roles in a Elizabethan-era comedy of manners, Queen Gynecia and King Basilius, will be played by, respectively, Alaska 5000 and Lea DeLaria. Alaska 5000 comes to the stage from renown partly based on being proclaimed winner of the second season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” and runner-up on season 5 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Although also known as a comic and singer, DeLaria is most familiar to recent television audiences for a three-time SAG Award-winning run as Carrie “Big Boo” Black on “Orange is the New Black.”
Not yet announced is who will play the crucial role of the Oracle, but it may not be the most binary of choices, since “Head Over Heels” previously won considerable attention for having Peppermint — also, like Alaska 5000, a veteran of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” — be touted as the first out transgender person to originate a leading role on Broadway.
Coming over from the Broadway run of “Heels” is Yurel Echezarreta (as The Player), who recently filmed a role in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.” George Salazar (Musidorus) is known to Pasadena Playhouse regulars for having played Seymour in a pre-pandemic production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” and, on Broadway, was a Lucille Lortel winner and Drama Desk nominee for “Be More Chill.” A fellow “Be More Chill” star now chilling out to Go-Go’s songs is Tiffany Mann (Pamela), who won a Lucille Lortel Award as well, but for “Jerry Springer the Opera.” Emily Skeggs (Mopsa) racked up Tony and Grammy nominations for appearing in “Fun House” on Broadway. Shanice Williams (as Philoclea) earned a big TV profile playing Dorothy in the prime-time “The Wiz Live!”
If the casting doesn’t grab L.A. theatergoers’ attention, the setup will, as the usual seats have been removed from California’s state theater for this production, replaced by a general-admission “dance floor” and two seated areas, with the cast moving throughout stairways, ramps and the crowd on the floor.
As explained by Playhouse producting artistic director Danny Feldman in a previous Variety story, “It’s just more of an experience than passively watching a show. The show happening all around you puts the audience in the center of the story and music.” Because of the pandemic-mandated interruption in the theater’s normal schedule, with “Heels” set as the opening production in the 2021-22 after a long layoff, “frankly, we have time to transform our space that in normal times we don’t. … This was the time to do it. It’s a big, bold swing, and we’re trying to build the party that everyone earned for the last year-plus.”
The party/dance floor atmosphere won’t be anything-goes, though; amid the immersion, masks will be required, as well as proof of full vaccination, except for those who can prove a religious exemption and show a recent negative test.
The creative team has also been filled out, with direction and choreography by Jenny Koons and Sam Pinkleton, who reconceived this intermission-free version of the show, plus music direction by Kris Kukul, scenic design by David Meyer, costume design by Hahnji Jang, lighting design by Stacey Derosier, sound design by Danny Erdberg and Ursula Kwong Brown, casting by Ryan Tymensky of the Telsey Office and stage management by Sara Sahin.
Performances run from Nov. 9 through Dec. 12, and are on sale now at pasadenaplayhouse.org.
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