The Go-Go’s were the first successful all-female band to write their own songs and play their own instruments. Now, 40 years after their formation, they’re still creating milestones. With Head Over Heels, the Los Angeles quintet becomes the first all-female act to have a jukebox musical featuring their material.
The play, which begins previews at Broadway’s Hudson Theater on June 23, sets the group’s music to an Elizabethan tale about an oracle’s four prophecies that spell doom for the kingdom of Arcadia. Based on Arcadia by 16th century author Sir Philip Sidney, the Michael Mayer-directed play has been adapted as an uplifting comedy with gender-fluid characters, same-sex romances and a message of inclusion.
Before moving to Broadway, Head Over Heels, whose producers include Gwyneth Paltrow and Beautiful producer Christine Russell, is in a limited run at San Francisco’s Curran Theater. The Go-Go’s’ Charlotte Caffey, Kathy Valentine and Jane Wiedlin attended opening night, April 18, and will be joined by bandmates Gina Schock and Belinda Carlisle at the Broadway opening night, July 26.
Caffey, Valentine and Wiedlin talked to Billboard shortly before the curtain rose opening night about their reaction to the play, what it means for their legacy, and, 40 years in, what they still want to achieve.
What was your reaction when you were first approached in 2011 about using your songs for a musical?
Wiedlin: It was no skin off our teeth to let them try to get it done. There was nothing to lose.
Valentine: Prior to this, [producer] Rick Ferrari, who never had any experience, [was] trying to do a musical about Smokey Robinson’s [ex]-wife, Claudette. He worked on it and worked on it and he went to Berry Gordy and he couldn’t get the music. He’d done all this work and gotten his feet wet and he was hanging out with Belinda and Belinda was telling stories about the band and it was like a light bulb [went off].
Then it turned into the 1580s meets the 1980s, with the play based on Philip Sidney’s 16th century story, Arcadia.
Wiedlin: We were so happy that it wasn’t going to be about us and I think we were all very intrigued about how [original book writer Jeff Whitty] was going to do it, but he’s a Tony Award-winning book writer, so we thought, “OK, this guy knows what he’s doing” and indeed he did. [James Magruder wrote an adaptation based on Whitty’s original conception].
Caffey: When [Jeff] sent the first treatment, you opened the page and it shows a picture of Sir Philip Sidney with an Elizabethan collar and then it has a plus sign and it has a picture of The Go-Go’s. I started reading it and I think we all experienced the same thing — we were laughing hysterically. It was a really fresh, completely outside of the box and it kind of matches who we are — we’re just out there and we like a weird sense of humor.
Why did you not want your story to be told?
Wiedlin: All of us feel like it’s really hard to get the story of five people correct and everyone sees things differently. How do you make it where everyone has an equal place in the story? It seems impossible to me.
What does it mean to see these songs used in a completely different context?
Wiedlin: Working with Tom Kitt [the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winner who handled the arrangement and orchestrations] has been one of the best parts of this experience. The five of us are all pretty controlling people, but to let the music go and let Tom do his thing and see the results were pretty miraculous. We had no idea if it was going to be rock or if he was going to turn it in to all ballads or what it was going to turn into, but I feel like he’s taken every song and augmented it in this really great way where it’s gone beyond what we ever did as a simple rock band.
Valentine: One of the things that I love about this is we’re known for a handful of hit songs and this musical grabs songs like our deep cuts off our 2001’s God Bless the Go-Go’s and songs that we don’t do [live] because we’re like, “Nah, nobody listened to that.” It’s exciting because I think it’s going to enhance our legacy a lot [and] show we’re a lot more than “We Got the Beat” and “Vacation” and “Our Lips are Sealed” and “Head over Heels.”
Wiedlin: Some of the showstoppers in the show are not the hits and, personally as a lyricist, there were times at the preview last week that I almost burst out into tears because to see the lyrics actually in a show where they’re representing the theme— like the song “Good Girl,” you know no one ever heard that song and if they did, I don’t know if they got what it was about, but man, you really get what that song’s about when you see how it’s used in the show. I think that’s true of a lot of the songs.
Valentine: We’ve got so many unknown songs, I think we could have two or three musicals.
How significant is it for you that The Go-Go’s are the first all-female band to get a musical on Broadway?
Wiedlin: For years people have been touting The Go-Go’s as the first successful female band that wrote their own songs, played their own instruments, and I say, “blah, blah, blah.” But now, the older I get, the more I think, “Hell yeah. That’s important.” You could never take that away from us. And if we now happen to also have a successful musical, that’s just the cherry on the cake.
Has Head Over Heels made you realize there are other possibilities going forward, and what does it mean for your legacy?
Caffey: That’s left to be seen. We don’t know. What’s going to transpire after [the play] starts hitting the world, it’s pretty exciting. Like in the beginning of our careers, where we would all agree it was like being hit by lightning, it’s now happening again, being struck by lightening. It’s so hard to mount a musical and it was on life support many times. It had it’s real scary moments, but it’s meant to be. I saw it last night and people were on their feet during that last song and they’re uplifted just like when we play our shows.
Valentine: It would be great if it did something for our legacy and cemented us, but I have to say the way this country is now, if we can have any small part in bringing something to a huge segment of the population that has been pushed into a political climate that is really unforgiving and intolerant and hateful and mean, I just think it’s an incredible what it could do for a lot of people. It’s so inclusive, so diverse, so celebrating.
Caffey: This is important and that it’s coming out now. Let’s get Mike Pence in the audience! [Laughs] He would be offended.
Did you ask that the producers use an all-girl band?
Valentine: We didn’t have to ask, but I think it would have been weird not.
Jane, the band’s drummer, Dena Tauriello, said you told her to play louder after you saw a dress rehearsal.
Wiedlin: Always. I say that every day. “LOUDER” [shouts] I thought they were really good musicians and they really know the songs, but I thought they were being too polite.
Caffey: Don’t be polite. Go with reckless abandon and just bash away.
Has this experience inspired you to make some new music together as a group?
Caffey: No… [Laughs] Well, we’ll see. That’s one of the unknowns about how this will affect us all.
This summer, you’re playing three shows at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. That must be pretty exciting for five hometown girls.
Wiedlin: This year is really bizarre. We have a show going to Broadway, we’re playing three nights at the Hollywood Bowl. First of all, I never thought I’d make it to 60, which is what I’m turning this year. I certainly never thought The Go-Go’s would be this relevant at the age of 60. It’s all very surprising.
The band quit touring after its 38th anniversary. Any thought on reversing that decision?
Caffey: We retired from touring; we didn’t retire from playing gigs.
Wiedlin: I don’t know about touring. It’s so hard as you get older.
Valentine: I think there will be special events. I’ve said this for years and years: There’s no band like The Go- Go’s. It might be little, but it’s our niche and nobody else has it.
What about a Las Vegas residency?
Valentine: We did that in the ’90s. It’s horrible. We thought it would be so great: “Oh, we don’t have to tour!” On the 10th night, you’re playing to these high rollers and you’re like, “This is horrible, let me out of here”…Not that we wouldn’t do that again. [Laughs]
Wiedlin: Sounds good to me.