Final Bow

Final Bow: Bonnie Milligan on Playing an Unconventional Princess in Head Over Heels

Milligan breaks barriers in the Go-Go’s musical at the Hudson Theatre.

In Head Over Heels, the musical fairytale using the songs of the Go-Go's, Bonnie Milligan plays a princess that's far different than the ones we're used to. Milligan's character, Pamela, has been told she's beautiful for her entire life. She knows that's a fact. She also knows that, as princess, she'll have to marry someone before she inherits the kingdom. What she's unaware of at the beginning is that her future love interest, Mopsa (Taylor Iman Jones), isn't some handsome prince. It's her lady-in-waiting.

As Broadway's first out, body-positive princess, Milligan is crushing traditional story archetypes eight times a week at the Hudson Theatre. Here, she tells us not only what it means to her, but how much the show's representation means to its audience.

Bonnie Milligan as Pamela in Head Over Heels on Broadway.
Bonnie Milligan as Pamela in Head Over Heels on Broadway.
(© Joan Marcus)

1. What is your favorite line that you get to say?
"For beauty's standard through all time defines inconstancy." I love to drop it in at the end to just remind people…Screw beauty standards. They change all the time.

2. What was the worst technical difficulty you experienced during the run?
We have these palace curtains that come in and they should just drop down. On two separate times, one of them came billowing down and nearly took me and Alexandra Socha right out as we were entering.

3. What is the most interesting present you received at the stage door?
We've gotten some amazing fan art. I had somebody draw me as Pamela and put it on a T-shirt, and it says, "be your own kind of beautiful." It's really cool. I love it. I wore it one day, and that day she came back with her mom and I didn't know she was going to be there. It was amazing that I was able to be like, "Hey, I'm wearing your daughter's shirt."

4. Who is the coolest person to come see the show?
Whoopi Goldberg was pretty exciting. All of the Drag Race girls have come. Alyssa Edwards, I died. She was here in full drag. For the musical-theater geek inside of me, Bernadette Peters and Betty Buckley were pretty epic.

Bonnie Milligan (center) as Pamela in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of Head Over Heels.
Bonnie Milligan (center) as Pamela in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of Head Over Heels.
(© Jenny Graham)

5. You've been with the show since its first readings. How has the role of Pamela developed?
It's gotten a lot deeper. Pamela is a big character. On the page, she can be full of herself. I worked really hard to find the depth and realness in there, and the actual kindness. In this last version, with Michael Mayer directing and Taylor Iman Jones playing Mopsa, we've really deepened Mopsa and Pamela's relationship to root that friendship and trust and love from the beginning, so it isn't out of the blue. That's really evolved the most.

6. What does it mean to play a queer, body positive princess on Broadway in 2018?
It means the world to me. Representation matters, and not just representation, but celebration.

I don't know how many big girls I have talked to who are like "I've been told you can play Tracy Turnblad and that's it." Personally, all the scripts I've gotten over the years have been insulting in some way. There's gotta be something in the character description that justifies why you're there, and it always has to do with your weight, which is so frustrating. So to not only be onstage and existing without talking about my weight, and also being the most beautiful girl in the kingdom, with everyone else onstage agreeing, is like…beyond.

When Pamela and Mopsa eventually come out, the parents are like, "OK." There's nobody saying you can't do that. What has been amazing is finding how that resonates, especially with the queer kids at the stage door, who are in tears saying, "You don't know what it means to me." It's a positive love story, and it's not tokenized.

7. What Go-Go's song was the hardest to lose from the final version of the show?
"This Town." It's got so much attitude and its such a good song. It used to open our show, but it didn't have the same kind of burst as "We've Got the Beat." Michael Mayer tried to make that song work for so long, and it just never did. We use it instrumentally, but I miss that song.

8. Of all of Pamela's extravagant costumes, what do you want to steal from her wardrobe?
Her parasol. The dresses themselves are a little cumbersome. They're gorgeous, but not exactly user-friendly.

9. What happens to Pamela and Mopsa after the show ends?
We're definitely getting married. During the bows, we both have white dresses on which alludes to marriage. For a minute, we were going to have weddings at the end, but I don't think we ever put it up in front of an audience. Down the line, we're ruling the kingdom!

Bonnie Milligan on the opening night of Head Over Heels.
Bonnie Milligan on the opening night of Head Over Heels.
(© David Gordon)