Loyola produces first musical in two years

Madeline Taliancich, Managing Editor for Digital

Mariola Chalas said she’s been expecting a cancellation email while rehearsing for Loyola’s upcoming musical. Chalas, a musical theatre senior, was in the production of “Cabaret” that was shut down a week shy of opening when the university closed in March 2020 due to COVID-19. Now, she’s waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Chalas said half of her worried that the show wouldn’t make it to opening due to “Cabaret”’s cancellation two years ago. The other half realized that “oh my God, it’s actually happening.”

Chalas is an ensemble member and understudy in “Head Over Heels,” Loyola’s first musical in two years. She, like other members of the cast, said they’re excited to be getting the chance to perform in a musical again.

“It’s my last year at Loyola, so I’m feeling very grateful that I was able to do a musical before leaving,” Chalas said.

Although the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance has produced outdoor musical showcases and indoor plays during the pandemic, “Head Over Heels,” a musical based on the songs of 80s rock band The Go-Go’s, is its first maskless, indoor musical to open since spring 2019.

Musical theatre sophomore Zane Syjansky hasn’t had the opportunity to be in a musical during his two years at Loyola – until now.

“This is my first musical in a year and a half now. The last one I did was in high school,” Syjansky said. “This being my first college musical, it’s very, very exciting.”

Stage manager Gabriela López Rúiz, who worked as an assistant stage manager on “Cabaret,” is looking forward to the show’s opening.

“It feels nice to finally be able to do a musical that’s going to go into production,” she said.

Although the “Head Over Heels” cast will perform maskless now that Loyola has dropped its mandate, much of the rehearsal process has been masked. The actors were able to shed their masks during dress rehearsals as they prepared to open on Thursday, March 31, according to producer and musical theatre junior Noelle Timberlake.

Syjansky, playing the role of Musidorus, said the masks allowed the team to “play it safe” throughout rehearsals so that they could unmask when it became necessary.

“Everyone just wants to be safe and make sure we can quarantine as less as possible,” López Rúiz said. “Being masked has allowed us to do that.”

The cast and crew said getting the chance to work on a musical, especially a show like “Head Over Heels” that features themes of queer love, gender noncomfority, and embracing your truest self, without a mask makes them hopeful for the future.

“It’s the perfect show to do coming out of the pandemic, you know, because it’s so positive, it’s so full of love,” said Department of Theatre Arts and Dance Chair C. Patrick Gendusa.

For Gendusa, a self-proclaimed The Go-Go’s superfan, and director Hardy Weaver, producing the New Orleans premiere of “Head Over Heels” has been an effort nearly three years in the making.

In 2019, Gendusa approached Weaver about directing the show in the spring of 2021, but it was pushed back multiple times as COVID-19 conditions changed. Despite the yearlong setback, Gendusa said the reason for producing the show hasn’t changed.

“To have this show that just celebrates everyone, it’s just a wonderful thing,” he said.

Weaver thinks this show is important now more than ever.

“It’s about having an old way of being, an old way of doing things, losing that, and finding a new way, a better way. And that’s what we’ve all been forced to do over the last two years,” they said.

The “Head Over Heels” team hopes audiences take what they need from the show.
“I keep telling the actors, people have been wanting to see a musical. People have been wanting to laugh,” Weaver said. “People have been wanting to have songs stuck in their heads, people who are going to jam out, and that’s what we’re going to give them.”
Timberlake hopes audiences sing along and experience both the joy of and deeper message of acceptance in “Head Over Heels.”
Others, like Chalas, hope that the show’s presentation of love leaves people feeling open-minded.
“I hope that they take away a feeling of hope and self-reflection,” Syjansky said. “I just think people need to come see it.”

“Head Over Heels” runs March 31, April 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, and 9 at 7:30 p.m. in Loyola’s Marquette Theater.