On Thursday, August 19, Nebraska Wesleyan performed their first showing of the year with the musical Head Over Heels. The theatre department’s season opener follows a royal family as they work to save their kingdom, discovering themselves in the process. An ancient Greek setting collides with songs based on the rock band the Go-Go’s to produce a musical with quite a bit in store.
Last spring, Anne McAlexander, Assistant Professor of Musical Theater, advocated for Wesleyan to bring in as guest director her former colleague James Newman, Artistic Director of Summer Repertory Theatre Festival. Once the production was approved, the duo began planning right away. They knew there was a great deal of work in store.
“I advocated to bring James to Wesleyan,” McAlexander explained. “We worked together for 10 years at his program, working on multiple shows, and we kind of work as one.”
When it came to picking the story and filling in characters, the two decided on a story that would have something for everybody, a story with a lot of character development and revolutionary changes. With characters from all sexual and gender identities, Head Over Heels was a perfect pick.
“What I love about the characters’ development and the representation of non-binary and queer characters is that it doesn’t hit you over the head. It’s simple and matter of fact, and we’re presenting people who in their truest form love who they love,” Newman stated. “There’s no need to add a layer of politics or anything extra with it. They happen to love who they love.”
In-between dances and musical numbers, the principal characters go on a quest to save their kingdom and along the way, discover their true selves. They explore relationships and come to terms with their gender and sexuality.
“One of my favorite aspects of this musical is the amount of representation on stage. There are so many different kinds of love and relations being explored from familiar to romantic,” senior musical theatre major Elke Myers said.
Principal characters weren’t the only ones on the stage, however. The ensemble characters are seen constantly throughout the entire production helping with songs, dances, and transitions. Each member had their own story as well, which meant character development and identity formation is shown from every person on stage.
“It was a wild ride being an ensemble member of this production, but an absolutely incredible experience! I feel like I learned a lot about creating my own story when one isn’t explicitly given as well as growing as an all-around performer,” senior acting major Ann Truka explained.
“It was very hectic in the best way possible! We are challenged by our choreographer to do intense dances with lifts, tables, hula hoops, and suitcases,” sophomore musical theatre major Jamie Orton added.
While the musical is spectacular in and of itself, the preparation of the show was even more so. The cast and crew were on quite the time crunch to perfect their production before the week of move-in. On top of the quick production, cast members had to make time for their jobs and personal lives as well.
“We kicked up right away with learning music and the first dance number, then it was dance number after dance number and we worked with James and Anne from nine am until eight or nine at night. Halfway through the process I began PA training,” senior theatre studies major Colin Swanson explained, “Juggling schedules and trying to balance long days made it tough, but I still enjoyed it, and all the cast members made it worth it.”
All the hard work that the cast and crew members put into this production really shows. For the spectator, it’s almost guaranteed to be a good show.
“Some things about a place seep into their work. Wesleyan’s students are hardworking and there is something special about how seriously they take their work. Nothing is taken for granted,” Newman noted.
Check out the dates and shows for the upcoming season through the Theatre Department website link below.