New Surry Theatre’s “Head Over Heels” production defied the odds and opened last weekend at the Town Hall Theater in Blue Hill. Pictured are (front, left to right) Christopher Raymond, Erin McCormick and Sofya Lantratova, Vanessa Hawkins (middle row), Kahlan Hanle, Jarod Smith, Sally Mills and Faith Harmon. Keenan Schaeffe (back row), Theodore Dumas, Daniel Clement, Lisa Durkee and Jaimie Paige.

The show did go on! New Surry Theatre’s “Head Over Heels” rises to the occasion



Reviewed by Nan Lincoln

Special to The Ellsworth American

BLUE HILL — It has been a challenging season for New Surry Theatre. The recent death of its founder, former artistic director and motivational guru Bill Raiten, was an incalculable loss. For more than 50 years, this excellent little community theater has entertained, intrigued, provoked and delighted the theater-going public.

Still, there was no question that NST, which not only survived, but found innovative ways to bring good theater to grateful audiences, would survive this hard blow. Just two weeks ago, they rallied and were on the verge of opening their annual summer musical when misfortune frowned on them again, striking down cast and crew members with COVID. As Raiten would say, “Oy!”

After postponing the opening of “Head Over Heels,” an updated take on Philip Sidney’s quirky little musical that marries a Shakespearean-ish plot and language with the music of girl band pop stars the Go-Gos, the troupe valiantly launched the show last weekend. The cast was still missing key members while others had not fully recovered.

“We were determined that the show must go on,” said Director Lori Sitzabee, before the opening curtain. For this to happen, she and several other veteran NST actors had to step into those roles on short notice.

A sensible person might, at this point, bet against their being able to pull it off, but it would have been a foolish gamble.

If the show they delivered last Sunday was ragged at times, it offered plenty of laughs, some nice musical moments and, well, fun.

Performed in the round, the story involves the royal family of Arcadia, a Zeus-worshipping realm, presided over by its king, Basilius (Daniel Clement), and his wife, Gynecia (Lisa Durkee).

The couple have two daughters, the beautiful Pamela, and her younger sister the sweet, kindhearted Philoclea. Now here’s when things get a bit dicey for both the Arcadians and the production.

Replacing Jaimie Paige as Pamela, the corseted and beribboned Sitzabee had to convince us — despite being rather, uh, mature, for an ingenue role — of being a vain, self-absorbed girl, reluctant to wed any of the suitors her increasingly vexed parents throw at her feet. Sitzabee even had her script in hand at all times, and occasionally had to abandon the stage altogether to help with the sound.

Well, she did it. Sitzabee, with her strong, tuneful voice and considerable acting chops, was both hilarious and, ultimately, believable as both the disgruntled older sister and later the lovestruck, giggly girl who discovers that the problem isn’t her not finding the right man to love, but the right gender.

More strong singing and convincing acting was delivered by another cast replacement, Vanessa Hawkins, playing Pamela’s beleaguered lady’s maid Mopsa. Hawkins was the most successful at actually sounding like an ’80s pop star.

As the royal parents Clement and Durkee were great fun. Clement has never looked more fetching in the black-and-gold regal togs and shiny high-heeled boots costumer Randall Simons created for him, and Gynecia’s boxy bonnet was sheer genius. Both their duet “Heaven is a Place on Earth,” and their subsequent canoodling, are highlights of the show.

Keenan Schaeffer as the frenzied Major Domo Dametus was good fun with his fine baritone but needed to slow down and enunciate the difficult dialogue more clearly so we get the jokes.

Erin McCormick doesn’t have the strongest singing voice but made up for it with her on-point portrayal of the sinuous and sinister oracle Pythio.

Theo Dumas had some great moments as the shepherd boy Musidorous who loves the younger sister Philoclea (a properly sweet, but somewhat pitch-challenged Kahlan Hanle). He is loved by every member of the royal family as either himself or his alter ego the lovely, though somewhat hirsute Amazon warrior Cloephila. Dumas and Christopher Raymond were also responsible for an excellent set design that managed to successfully to combine medieval Bayeux tapestries with futuristic lighting and mod geometry.

As mentioned, the performance was understandably shaky on an opening weekend with some painful off-key or off-pace moments, but one has to admire the chutzpah and determination of this little theater company that could and did make us laugh in spite of it all.

Sitzabee promises, if she is not replaced by a recovered original Pamela by then, she will be off book.

Final performances of “Head Over Heels” are scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Aug. 19-20, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 21. To reserve seats, go to www.newsurrytheatre.org. For more info, call 200-4720 or email [email protected]

Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.