*Shanice Williams and Tiffany Mann can’t hide their excitement when they talk about their latest project, Head Over Heels, a new musical opening at the Pasadena Playhouse on November 13.
“I had to be a part of it,” said Mann, who was familiar with the show before joining the cast. “I wanted to see and be in a show that represented the world we live in. The diversity and inclusion on stage are what you would see in your everyday life.”
“Before I started, I didn’t know a lot about the show, so I did a lot of research,” said Williams. “It is a strong lesson. It’s a teaching show. It teaches you about non-binary. He wants to be a she, they want to be they and LGBTQ. It teaches it in a fun way. This was a learning experience for me as well. It sounds heavy, but we make it fun. It’s an important lesson.”
Dynamos in their own right, Williams, who starred as Dorothy in NBC’s, and Mann, who starred in “Be More Chill,” are part of a stellar cast ready to rock n roll at the historic venue.
Head Over Heels is a musical comedy, set to the music of the iconic LA-based female rock band The Go-Go’s.
The story follows a royal family in search of a purpose, lovers in search of each other, and a whole kingdom in search of a beat.
It features the hit songs Our Lips Are Sealed, Vacation, Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven is a Place on Earth, and Mad About You, among others. It’s designed to allow the audience to be whisked away through a world of exuberance and wit from the first notes of We Got the Beat to the final celebratory curtain call.
Mann, who plays Pamela in the show, has also starred in NBC’s New Amsterdam, NBC’s Rise and Orange Is the New Black. On Broadway, she starred in Be More Chill and Waitress. On Off-Broadway she appeared in Jerry Springer the Opera (Lucille Lortel Award), Invisible Thread, and Cabin in the Sky. Her other theater credits include Smokey Joe’s Cafe at The Muny, Dreamgirls, Live from Lincoln Center: Sweeney Todd.
Williams, who stars as Philoclea, recently is best known for playing “Dorothy” in NBC’s The Wiz Live! She also had a recurring role in the NBC comedy Perfect Harmony with Bradley Whitford and Anna Camp. She will also be seen guest-starring in the upcoming season 4 of The Last O.G., opposite Tracy Morgan and Da’Vine Joy Randolph.
I recently caught up with Mann (TM) and Williams (SW) to talk about their careers and their participation in Head Over Heels.
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DD: What attracted you to this project?
TM: The fact that there are people in it of all sizes, shapes, and identities. My character gets to be a beautiful self and stand in her beauty with no apology.
DD: How would you describe the show?
TM: It’s about a good time in the land of Arcadia told by the landscape of the Go-Go’s. What attracted me was the leadership.
SW: Before I started, I didn’t know a lot about the show. I did a lot of research. It is a strong lesson, a teaching show. It teaches you about non-binary. He wants to be a she. They want to be they and LGBTQ. It teaches it in a fun way. It was a learning experience for me as well. It sounds heavy, but we make it fun. It’s an important lesson.
DD: I understand the audience is going to experience something unique.
SW: There are two bars built on the stage. You can actually get up and get a drink during the show. The stage is now audience seating. We have added a stage to cover where the pit and orchestra seating would be. There is a stage built on top of the seating. It’s fascinating and hard to explain. Also, if the audience is COVID scared, they can sit in the mezzanine.
TM: With everything we have going on outside in the world, we want to invite the audience to escape for 90 minutes. We want to rekindle the sense of community. We want everyone to have a good time. We actually have a dance floor. You are right in the middle of the action. We have a high gallery and low gallery seating. It’s a real experience.
DD: Talk about the set of the show.
SW: There are two bars built on the stage. You can get up and get a drink during the show. The stage is now audience seating. We have added a stage to cover where the pit and orchestra seating would be. There is a stage built on top of the seating. It’s fascinating and hard to explain. If the audience is COVID scared, they can sit in the mezzanine.
DD: What’s it like to work on that stage?
SW: It’s been fun working on the stage like that. There are safety precautions in place. It’s been a blast. There is a lot of work, though. There are stairs we go up that are built on both sides. This is a welcome back for me. My last show was in 2018. I wanted something inviting. This is it.
TM: You get to exercise different muscles as an actress working on a traditional stage. The audience is all around you. You get to connect to the audience in different ways. This set offers an opportunity for the audience to be a part of the cast. I’m treating the audience as our other cast member. There are two bars. The audience can sit at the bar and enjoy the music we all know and love. We invite them to dance.
DD: Tell me about your character and how you developed her?
TM: I play Pamela. She is part of the royal family. She’s the elder sister. She gets to stand in her beauty despite societal standards or royal expectations. She chooses her own path. She listens to herself. I’m plus size, have dark skin and have natural hair. So many things around me tell me all those things are beautiful. I get to stand in my beauty. Pamela knows she is everything.
SW: In the original Broadway production, she is the younger sister of a royal family. She is not as open and bold as her older sister. She is in love with this guy and no one wants her to be with him. Philoclea is the character. In this show, we had to think about the depth of the character. She is a girl who has a gender-fluid type of style. She knows who she is. Her family thinks she’s weird. It’s a beautiful arc. I think the audience will see how you are led to all the things you are supposed to get in life.
DD: How familiar were you with the music of the Go Go’s?
SW: I was familiar with the big songs. I’m 25. I wasn’t born when they were out, but they are timeless. It wasn’t played in my household. We only listened to gospel.
TM: For me, the Go-Go’s was that soundtrack that was always playing. When I was younger, I wasn’t sure who that was. I knew the music.
DD: Was everything on the page or were you able to put what you wanted into the character?
TM: The experience we are having with co-directors is great. They are allowing us to bring our full selves to the character. They have allowed me to bring my full self and develop and find things the page may not say. We are making it make sense.
SW: Absolutely not. On the page, she seems naïve and comical. I had to give her depth. The costumes had to be rethought because of the route that we went with her. I and the directors came together. The co-directors are incredible in how they are doing the show. We are all creating it together. Never been part of a show where we have so much creative authority.
DD: How did you get into showbiz?
TM: I am from Fort Worth, TX. I grew up singing in church. My mother saw my talent and cultivated it. I started young. I was 17 doing my first show. I was [aid $50. I was so excited. My mother is a singer as well. I was always making up songs. I would wrangle my siblings to do a show. I have five sisters and a brother. I’m the middle child. We’re a multi blended family. My dad and bonus mom is David Mann and Tamela Mann.
DD: Why did you want to be in showbiz?
SW: Growing up as an only child, my family would say sweetie sing for us, dance for us. I never had a lot of friends. The reaction of my family made me feel good. I didn’t feel like I fit in. When I get on stage, I feel at home. I knew I could never do anything else. When you get that feeling of wow, this is what I’m supposed to do. I knew since middle school.
TM: Although I knew my dad and bonus mom was in showbiz, I didn’t see it for myself. In musical theater, I didn’t see people who looked like me. I was going to be an optometrist. Now I can’t picture doing anything else.
DD: What did you expect from showbiz and what did you actually get?
TM: I expected flowers, rainbows, unicorns, and smooth sailing because I worked hard. Boy was I wrong. My mission nowadays is to understand the struggle of the business. It gives newcomers a false sense. We have to be transparent. I don’t always feel confident. With social media, it’s always about just showing the good. It can be incredibly rewarding.
SW: That’s a good question. The main thing was I expected my main focus to be performing. I wanted to change the world with my talent. Show business is a business. You have to have a good team, the right people around you. I never wanted to be famous. I just wanted to perform.
Head Over Heels, Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA; through Sunday, December 12; Tuesday-Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; starting at $30; pasadenaplayhouse.org, 626-356-7529.