Students “got the beat” in theater program return


Photo courtesy of Kayla Mutchler

Students rehearse “Head Over Heels” inside of the theater in Dodds Hall, West Haven, Nov. 8.

As the lights darkened in Bucknall Theater, actors entered from both sides of the stage. They posed, the drums pulsated and the guitars entered to the iconic rhythm of “We Got the Beat” by The Go-Go’s. The university theater program is back.

From Nov. 10 through Nov. 13, the University of New Haven theater arts program performed “Head Over Heels,” featuring music from the 80s rock band, The Go-Go’s. Based on the 16th century prose, “The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia” by Sir Philip Sidney, the story follows the royal family of Arcadia as they try to protect their land’s precious “beat.”

The theater arts Instagram page said the show is “an unapologetically queer musical that explores and highlights many LGBTQ+ identities that aren’t often talked about.”

In the first act, King Basilius and his wife, Gynecia, live prosperously with their two daughters, Pamela, one of the most beautiful girls in the land, and Philoclea, who is in love with her childhood friend, Musidorus. As Pamela fights off her usual suitors, Basilius becomes upset with her, and a mysterious message arrives from Pithio, the Oracle of Delphi.

Baslilius and his underling, Dametas, meet up with Pithio, who tells them that they are non-binary and that Arcadia’s precious “beat” is on the verge of being lost forever, since the land is too traditional.

They tell of four prophecies:
“Thy younger daughter will bring a liar to bed. He thou shall forbid, she he’ll then assume.”
“Thou elder daughter will consent to wed. She’ll consummate her love but with no groom.”
“Thou with thy wife, adultery shall commit.”
“You will meet and make way for a better king.”

Basilius and Dametas return to Arcadia, and Basilius lies to his family about the prophecy, telling them instead that they must hunt a golden stag. As they get ready to leave, Musidorus asks for Philoclea’s hand in marriage, which her father denies because he is a farmer and can’t provide for Philoclea.

Musidorus walks in the forest and comes across a dead theater troupe and their box of costumes and wigs. Pithio appears to him and tells him to take on a new persona––one of an Amazon woman––and is transformed into “Cleophila.” Meeting up with the people of Arcadia once more, Cleophila saves them from a lion, and many characters become attracted to her.

As the musical continues, the prophecies come true; characters find themselves, fall in love and a new “beat” is brought to the once traditional Arcadia.

“Head Over Heels” is an entertaining and comedic musical. As the cast sang and danced to popular songs like “Vacation” and “Heaven is a Place on Earth,” the crowd sang along and clapped their hands. “We Got the Beat” was a strong opening to the show, with the audience immediately grooving along with the cast.

At multiple times in the show, the audience couldn’t contain their laughter, particularly over Musidorus/Cleophila’s actions and lines and Pamela’s vanity and ego.

Rose Butala, senior forensic science major who played Gynecia, said that she enjoyed being in the production and loved watching it come together.

“I never heard of this show till this semester and it’s become my favorite musical,” she said.

Butala said that her favorite part of the show was “Heaven is a Place on Earth.” She also said she liked being able to work with director Meg Savilonis, choreographer Diana Dart Harris and co-director of the theater program Jonathan Yukich.

After the Nov. 11 show, the cast, Savilonis, Assistant Director of LGBTQ+ resources Ian Shick, Chair of the New Haven Pride Center Dolores Dégagé Hopkins and other members of the show hosted a conversation focusing on transgender representation and identity portrayal in the show and its place in mainstream theater. This conversation came right before Transgender Awareness Week, which is observed from Nov. 13 through Nov. 19.

As the audience entered Dodds Hall to purchase tickets, they were greeted with signs that included pre-show activities. One sign included a “Which Young Lover Are You?” personality-style quiz and another had a “Create Your Own ‘Head Over Heels’ Generator” with Renaissance texts and 80s musicians based on your birth month and first letter of your name.

For more information about the theater program, students can reach out to