‘Head Over Heels’

Photo by Tina Turnbow

Lea DeLaria is mad about her latest project 

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Lea DeLaria just left rehearsals for the Pasadena Playhouse’s production of “Head Over Heels.” The “Orange is the New Black” star is giddy and oozing of energy.

“It’s our second day of rehearsals, and we’re having a ball,” DeLaria says enthusiastically. “I’m excited.”

“Head Over Heels” is a musical comedy set to the tunes of the Go-Go’s, like “Our Lips are Sealed” and “Vacation,” as well as singer Belinda Carlisle’s hits “Heaven is a Place on Earth” and “Mad About You.”

The dance party musical follows a royal family in search of a purpose, lovers in search of each other, and a whole kingdom in search of a beat. 

In it, DeLaria plays King Basilius to drag performer Alaska 5000’s Queen Gynecia. 

“I like that they asked me to play the king,” she says. “It is a drag musical. I’m playing a male role, which is really fun. Having Alaska in it is really what drew me to it. It’s just a great show. I’m in between projects right now. I had these two months off. It’s like the universe was saying, ‘Do this musical.’”

Award winner

DeLaria is best known for her three-time, SAG Award-winning role as Carrie “Big Boo” Black in the Netflix hit series “Orange is the New Black.” However, DeLaria’s multifaceted career as a comedian, actress and jazz musician has, in fact, spanned decades.

DeLaria is the first openly gay comic on American television, which led to countless television and film roles. She received Obie & Theater World Awards, and a Drama Desk nomination for her portrayal of “Hildy” in the Public Theater’s revival of “On the Town,” and played “Eddie” and “Dr. Scott” in the gender-bending Broadway musical “The Rocky Horror Show.”

She was the featured vocalist at the 50th anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival and has performed in prestigious houses like Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Chicago Symphony, Hollywood Bowl, the Royal Albert Hall and the Sydney Opera House.

DeLaria has five records on the Warner Jazz and Classics label, and her book “Lea’s Book of Rules for the World” is in its third printing at Bantam Doubleday and Dell. Her sixth record, “House of David delaria+bowie=jazz,” was released in the summer of 2015 to critical acclaim.

After “Head Over Heels,” DeLaria will work on recording her next album in New York. She chuckles when she’s called a multihyphenate entertainer. 

“When you look like me and you say what you think like me and make no apologies, it’s a good idea to do a lot of things in show business,” she says. 

“Oh, honey, believe me, I know it’s true. I’ve never been afraid of it. Obviously, I’m looking to do more than just make a living and entertain. Obviously, trying to change the world is very important to me. I can back my mouth up with all these things, and I do all this well.”

Stellar cast

At Pasadena Playhouse, DeLaria and Alaska 5000 will be joined by Urel Echezarreta (Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story”), Tiffany Mann (“Be More Chill”), George Salazar (“Little Shop of Horrors”), Emily Skeggs (“Fun Home”) and Shanice Williams (NBC’s “The Wiz Live!”).

The musical kicks off Pasadena Playhouse’s 2021-22 season. The venue will be fully transformed for the production, creating an experience with traditional reserved theater seats and a general admission dance floor. 

“It’s going to be done environmentally and in the round at the Playhouse,” DeLaria says.

“The audience is a major part of the production. It was conceived as a dance musical on Broadway. Everybody in the cast is known for being a really big singer. There’s plenty of dancing in it. It’s wicked fun.”

DeLaria says the plot is comedic with Shakespearian themes. It blends “As You Like It,” “The Winter’s Tale,” “The Comedy of Errors” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor.”

“It’s such a nice break to be back on the boards,” she says. “I love doing film and TV. Don’t get me wrong. I have a great time doing it. I love being downstage belting at B sharp.”

Clocking in at 90 minutes with no intermission, “Head Over Heels” has proven to be challenging for the 63-year-old actor. She says she must be mindful of her vocal cords and, as a physical comedian, she is careful about running and jumping around the stage. 

“It’s going to be really funny when people see the juxtaposition of me and Alaska together,” DeLaria says. “She’s lovely, so dry and so funny, not to mention she’s way taller than me. The sight gag is going to be funny. My king is a big goofball. It’s really entertaining. The cast is raring to go and chomping at the bit to start.”

“Head Over Heels”

WHEN: Tuesday, November 9, to Sunday, December 12: 8 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays

WHERE: Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molina Avenue, Pasadena

COST: Tickets start at $30

INFO: 626-356-7529, pasadenaplayhouse.org

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