New director helms “Head Over Heels” production

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"Head over Heels" will open on April 18 at the Dorothy Hess Baker Theatre. Photo Editor Kira Bretsky '27.

On Friday, Feb. 16, the company was informed that former Director and Adjunct Professor Daniel Kutner abruptly left the “Head Over Heels” production due to directorial differences. Intimacy Coordinator Alessandra Fanelli is set to replace the director, though many are still apprehensive about the recent changes made.

In response to stepping up to this new role, Fanelli said, “I’m genuinely honored to be a part of this collaborative effort. Working alongside passionate individuals makes the process both rewarding and exhilarating.” 

“It’s definitely a little scary going into a new process since change is always scary but the company has such talent and skill that I think we will be alright,” said a company member who, like most of the students we spoke to, asked to remain anonymous due to high tensions among the company.

The two student assistant directors, Aidan White ‘25 and C.J. McDonald ‘24, and dramaturg Rowan Joyce ‘24 will also have a larger role in the production.

“While I’m excited to have more queer people and students at the helm of this production, this period of transition is creating an extremely stressful environment,” said another company member. “I hope that moving forward, the company receives the respect and professionalism we have put into the space from the beginning.”

 “I feel more comfortable with a new direction as I think there were some previous directorial choices that made me uncomfortable so I’m glad they are changing while making everyone’s comfortability and safety come first,” said a third member of the company. 

“Because of us voicing our discontent with the choices that were made,” a fourth company member explained, “he made the decision to leave on his own.”

In leaving the production, Kutner also left his directing class. Professor of Directing, Performance Studies, and Theatre History James Peck, Ph.D will take over, coming out of a sabbatical to do so. 

“We’re going to spend the first class filling [Peck] in on what we’ve done so far, and then he’ll move forward from there,” said Emma Walter ‘24. “He’s not going to attempt to finish [Kutner’s] curriculum but rather see how to move forward with his own approach after seeing where we are.” 

Some students expressed that they were uncomfortable in Kutner’s class. “It felt like us students were doing more educating than we should’ve been,” an anonymous student said. According to several students, he did not know the definition of “gender-fluid” despite one of the main “Head Over Heels” characters identifying as such. 

The original Broadway production of “Head Over Heels,” which centers on a lot of queer identities, featured the first openly transgender Broadway performer. “For a queer show with a majority queer cast, I do not believe [Kutner] was doing the show justice considering his own identities and backgrounds,” an anonymous company member said. 

Many company members agreed that some of Kutner’s directorial choices were playing into harmful queer stereotypes, including over-sexualization. In some of the set designs, he wanted to illustrate explicit sexual imagery. “Sometimes we felt, like a majorly queer cast, that a lot of queer stereotypes were often being used,” one company member said. 

According to another company member, the company ultimately came together to voice their concerns about the production. After a conversation with some of the cast and production team, they made it clear that some directorial changes needed to be made. These changes include taking away some of Kutner’s design choices– from utilizing representations of modern-day media to some of the over-sexualization on stage. Kutner left after this. 

In the process of selecting a guest director, Director of the Co-Curriculum for Theatre & Dance Robyn Watson said, “It is simply that we look to directors within the department first and then we research for other guests when there is a need for directing to be filled for the season.” 

Guest artists and directors are brought, according to the Muhlenberg College website, to provide opportunities for students to work and study with  “world-class artists-in-residence.”

Yet this is not the first time people have had qualms with guest directors. “I think that with guest directors, it becomes a challenge when they are not experienced working with the students,” said Tomomi Lewis-Noguchi ‘24, who played Jesus in “…And Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi.” “I got a lot of support from faculty I had known for a while because the trust was already there, whereas it was never really built with the director, making the really heavy parts of the show difficult to work on.” 

Despite this mid-production transition, many believe Fanelli will be a good choice. “[Fanelli] was someone who was helping us throughout that process and had an understanding of what wasn’t working for us and what we needed,” said a company member. “But she’s also been involved… and seems very passionate about the show.” 

“I’m looking forward to seeing what she does as a director,” they added. Although Fanelli is the new director, the company is still knee-deep in the production process. According to one company member, they hope that there will be an “extension of grace and patience” as the production continues. 

Fanelli said, “I wholeheartedly believe that our combined efforts will result in a truly memorable production that is rooted in representation, self-discovery, love and celebration.”

“Head Over Heels” will be premiering Apr. 18-21 in the Baker Theater. 

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