We Know You Can Dance to the Beat: An Interview with Brian Boruta about Umbrella Stage’s “Head Over Heels”

Presented by Umbrella Stage
Adapted by James Magruder
Concept and Original Book by James Whitty
Music by The Go-Go’s
Directed by Brian Boruta
Music direction by David Wright
Choreography by Lara Finn

April 15 – May 8, 2022 (no performance 4/17)
Presented on the Main Stage
The Umbrella Arts Center
40 Stow Street
Concord, MA 01742

Interview by Kitty Drexel

CONCORD, Mass. — The Umbrella Stage returns to performances this April with Head Over Heels. Brian Boruta generously chatted with me on Friday, March 18 about the musical, gender politics, and The Go Go’s. 

This interview is condensed. It has been edited for grammar, congruity, and clarity. 

Queen Kitty: It’s awesome that you’re starting with Head Over Heels. Why this show now?

Brian Boruta: It’s funny; I think about this show now, because we had chosen this show earlier than now. Then things all got moved around.

We moved, a couple of years ago, to a committee-based approach to season planning. As we were coming out of the pandemic, it was really important that as many voices and perspectives as possible be included in program planning. 

One thing that came to the fore in that conversation was finding ways throughout the season coming out of the pandemic to just celebrate joy in many forms, to celebrate love, to amplify different marginalized voices throughout the season. Head Over Heels really popped out as that title that we could put towards the end of the season that celebrates joy, celebrates love, and celebrates community. 

It felt like audiences were craving that as we re-emerge and return to the theater. Audiences want to be joyful. They want to feel uplifted. This felt like the title that could do that.

The music of the Go Go’s just so iconic, and relatable, and familiar. Another thing that came out was nostalgia and familiarity. As we returned to the theater, we want that feeling, that warmth that brings. 

QK: What do you hope new audiences and old audiences take from this musical experience?

BB: You know, I think music is so well known. I don’t think of it as just pop music. I think of it as pop-punk music. It has an edge to it. It was revolutionary for this, you know, all-girl pop-punk band to be putting out this music onto the radio. 

I hope that audiences who know the music can come and see the musical and hear a new message or engage with it in a new way that maybe they hadn’t before. And they walk away thinking, “Wow. You know, when I first encountered this music, I wasn’t even thinking about it this way and now the conversation is where it is today.” 

(The music) is still so relevant and so applicable… I hope that they can see the music from the 70s and 80s and 90s, and understand that this is a journey that we as a society have been on for a long time. I think the journey is iterative and it’s ever-evolving. I think, although this show very specifically deals with the conversation around identity and love and acceptance, it is one that has been going on for a long time. It will go on for a long time after this musical.

One of the things that I love about the musical is that it takes that music from the 80s and 70s and that sort of pop-punk genre, and it layers on top of this Elizabethan-written story from the 16th Century that is placed very much in the sort of Greek context with an Oracle. So to me, it says that this conversation has been going on for generations, and it will continue to evolve and go on for generations to come. This is just a quick little amalgamated snapshot of that conversation from where we are today. 

QK: That’s a good segue. How would you summarize the plot of Head Over Heels to somebody who was interested in seeing the show, but wants to know more about it before diving in? I ran into trouble trying to describe the nitty-gritty. I was like, how would I summarize this in a review? For, whatever reason I’m thinking of Brigadoon. It’s this mystical situation with an Oracle. It’s like Brigadoon meets 300 (the movie). 

(Both laugh.)

BB: I would say it’s about this supposed idyllic kingdom that comes to realize that it’s not as idyllic as it thought it was. It goes on a long and winding journey to find itself only to realize that it winds up back exactly where it was (at the beginning). A whole bunch of people fall in love. And, it’s about celebrating love in all its different iterations. It’s about celebrating the differences that makes us stronger as a society.

QK: What is your favorite part of either getting to performance or rehearsal?

BB: I’m really excited to bring this cast together! We were able to make the casting announcement yesterday. 

I’m thrilled with the community of folks that we’re bringing together! Just seeing them celebrate the fact that the show is happening, celebrate the fact that they’re in it to get to take part in it. 

I’m really excited to get them all in the rehearsal room. To bring that energy back into the building.

We were able to restart our season. Then we had to take a pause. We had to sit back we had to move some things around. So, I think as we bring folks back into the room being able to do so with such joy is really exciting to me. 

I’m excited to hear people laugh in the audience too. The show is very funny, and it knows that it’s funny. It lets you in on that joke and to be able to hear audiences laughing and cheering in a way that we haven’t heard for a long time. Just makes my heart happy. I can’t wait for that.

QK: Do you have a favorite number in the musical? Do you have a favorite line?

BB: The Oracle’s perceptions. Pythio first enters there. There’s a line that they say that they’re addressed in a certain gender and the character says, “And how is gender germane to this conversation?” Right, and that just stops the show for me in a moment because that, in a nutshell, that’s the core of the show, right? Like, why is gender germane to this conversation? Why does everything has to be so gendered? Why can’t we be a little more open-minded, a little bit freer with ourselves and with other people that might stand out? 

I think the opening of the show and the Act One finale. There are such bursts of energy with all of this color on stage. It’s not very many shows open at that sort of high intensity. it’s always such a great sort of energy jolt right at the beginning. 

QK: What’s your favorite Go Go’s song?

BB: I love “Vacation.” Maybe it’s because I always want to be on one. I mean, the energy of it is so exciting to listen to.

QK: Okay, last question. What do you hope audiences take away from performances?

BB: I hope that they leave with their hearts and minds lifted. I hope that they leave feeling loved, and I hope that they leave feeling seen.

I hope that they leave with their hearts open, knowing that there are many different ways to move through this world. That their experience is just one, and that they can and should embrace the rainbow of other ways that people move through this world.

QK: Thank you so, so much for meeting with me this Friday morning. I hope you have a lovely weekend and I hope, knock on wood, everybody breaks legs, and rehearsals go so amazingly and the next variant dies before it hits the air.

Break legs, everyone! It will be so good to see you on stage again in person. Stay safe and be well!

Performances of  Head Over Heels begin on April 15 at the Umbrella Arts main stage in Concord, MA. Additional information, including detailed plot info free from the Gerard Butler campy fantasy movie 300, is HERE

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