Meet the All-Female Band Bringing the Music of the Go-Go's to Life in Broadway's 'Head Over Heels'

HEad Over Heels
Joan Marcus

Bonnie Milligan as Pamela  (center) with Tanya Haglund, Samantha Pollino, Ari Groover and Amber Ardolin in "Head Over Heels"

Head Over Heels is the first Broadway show based on music written and performed by an all-female group, so when it came time to select the musicians supporting the actors who bring the music of the Go-Go’s to life, it made sense to keep the firsts coming and go with an all-female band.

The play, which opened at New York’s Hudson Theater on July 26 after a run at San Francisco’s Curran Theater in the spring, contains 18 hits by the Go-Go’s wrapped around a story based on Philip Sidney’s 1680 tale, Arcadia.

Musical supervisor/orchestrator/arranger Tom Kitt reached out to Broadway veteran Kimberly Grigsby to serve as musical director and keyboardist. She recruited guitarist Ann Klein (Joan Osborne, Ani DiFranco), guitarist Bess Rogers (Ingrid Michaelson), bassist Catherine Popper (Jack White, Norah Jones, Ryan Adams), drummer Dena Tauriello (Rob Thomas, Antigone Rising) and associate music director Jane Cardona. 

The musicians talked to Billboard in San Francisco during previews prior to the move to Broadway about their thoughts on the all-women band, the Go-Go’s' music and adjusting to the demands of theater. 

Kimberly, how were you brought into the project and how  did you recruit the band?

Grigsby: Tom Kitt called me in October. I've worked with [director] Michael Mayer on several projects, [including] Spring Awakening and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. The Go-Go’s' music is so fun. I like the story because it's current with the topics that we're talking about. So that is an easy yes for me. And then [Tom] said we want an all-female band, and so here we are. I'd worked with Cat and Bess a year ago on a project, so I knew that those were two calls that were immediate. And then I didn't know any female drummers, so we got Dena's name from somebody else who I've worked with. Ann was new to me. Jane is my associate. So she will play [and] conduct, when I don’t.

What did you think when Tom said 'I want an all-female band'? Did you think it was cool or gimmicky? 

Grigsby: I don't know about gimmicky. This music was created by women and I feel like we're just actually serving the music by having it be performed by women. Not to say that it can't be performed [by] men in the show. When you're a teenager and you're bopping around to their music, it was fun and great fun, but actually the lyrics are very cool and so current, which is surprising to me, and really well-integrated into the story. 

Talk about what your thoughts were when you got asked to join the band.

Popper: I'm a touring and studio musician, so my first concern was 'Is this something that I can do?' But you know, it really helped that I grew up in the ‘80s [with] this music, so I loved the band… I went to conservatories and [as] the kind of music that I play gets dumber and dumber, I get happier and happier [laughs]. Sometimes the all-female thing for me is gimmicky because I get called for that stuff a lot and it's like 'Hey, I can write a big band chart. I know that I have boobs, but I don't think about them when I play.’ But like Kim said, [the Go-Go’s] were just super prolific and talented, so this is one of those things that it’s like 'Okay, this makes sense.' 

When you played with Jack White, were you in his all-female band?

Popper: Yes, I was and it was really annoying. No, I mean, I talked to him about it. I was like 'Why?' I've turned down a lot of gigs that [say] 'Hey, we want an all-female act’.

Rogers: I think I had some of the same thoughts, but I love the Go-Go’s' music that I knew. I actually grew up dancing around as a little kid to Belinda Carlisle's solo record. "Heaven Is a Place on Earth” was me as a two-year-old dancing around in my tutu. So that's pretty exciting to get to play that music, and just going down the Go-Go’s' rabbit hole. They were all such well-written, well-crafted songs. I didn't know that much about them because it was a little bit before my time when their music was out, but it was cool to learn that they were just a bunch of friends that just were a band.

Tauriello: When I got that call, email actually, initially, when it was confirmed, I literally cried. I was so happy.  I've been really a rock musician — I studied privately, I didn't do conservatory, I didn't do any of the fancy, proper music school training — but I've always been a rock girl. I always wanted to do Broadway, and this was the first opportunity that I've ever had to do it. So I was super excited. Being in middle school and high school when the Go-Go's were in the height of their popularity, I mean it was amazing to see an all-female band. And having been in an all-female band [Antigone Rising] for almost 20 years, with a record label and all that stuff, it never occurred to me then as a kid how hard that must have been for them. Of course I made a joke to myself that finally for all the gigs I've lost for being a female drummer, I finally got one for being a female drummer! [Laughs.]

Ann, unlike most of your bandmates, you have done Broadway before.

Klein: I have, but I've never had my own chair. I've done a lot of subbing and felt that I was ready to take that next step. I subbed on Waitress, Grease, Kinky Boots and The Great Comet.

Jane, at 23, you’re the newcomer of the group. How has the experience been?

Cardona: I was overwhelmed the second that Kim called me because I'm very, very young and it's an unbelievable experience.  It’s interesting just because the small amount of time I've spent in New York, all the bands that I have worked with have only been men, and so just to meet musicians that are women, I just haven't met that many.

Were you familiar with the Go-Go’s’ songs?

Cardona: I think that there was one song in a Rugrats movie.

How did the songs change and get reworked to fit the musical?

Grigsby: Tom Kitt did the arrangements. There were a lot of ensembles, a lot of vocal arrangements, and those have been expanded in that way. The tempos, we actually are pretty true to. 'This Old Feeling' slowed down in a completely different type of arrangement to suit the story. But the rest, we actually go back to the original recordings. Tom was very good about [staying] true to the feeling or the vibe of the songs. I will also say that not one lyric has been changed.

The Go-Go’s’ Jane Wiedlin met with you after a preview. What feedback did she give?

Tauriello: She had opinions and I appreciate that because it's her body of work and her life, blood, sweat and tears, so I listened to everything she said and I'm doing my best within the spirit of what we need to do as Broadway musicians. I've spent a lot of time listening to the songs and I really tried to play in the spirit of [Go-Go’s’ drummer] Gina [Schock] and kind of copy in some of the fills that she did or the flavor of those fills, so I really try to honor that as best I can… [Jane] thought the drums could be louder overall. And I’ve tried to be sensitive to dynamics. Kim likes dynamics, and it's an important part because there's a lot of dialogue and we're vamping and playing underneath when they're speaking and we have to be sensitive to all of that. But just in general, I've bumped it up a little bit.

Most of you are used to being out front playing your own gigs. Is it hard to get used to being in the background, playing in service of the show?

Popper: I'm a bass player -- nobody ever knows you [laughs].

What about the rigors of eight shows a week? Has that been difficult? 

Popper: You can sub out. Musicians, they only have to play 50 percent of the shows.

Grigsby: That's why everyone's coming to Broadway because they can still do their gigs and have a regular gig. It's the last great job for musicians.

Tauriello: With all that being said, this has been the most challenging and the most rewarding work that I've ever done.


Tauriello: It's a whole different skill set. I mean the playing is playing, still playing rock music essentially in a different environment, but I have to pay attention to cues, there's vamps, there's all these other things happening. I'm in a booth completely removed from everybody else, so that kind of brings its own [challenges] to feel like you're part of a band even though all I can see is Kim on a screen. So it's been completely polar opposite of anything that I've ever done. it's just different skill set. But it's amazing, it's great.

Popper: Yeah, Dena's been working her dick off [laughs].


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