Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Theater Review: Kinky Boots -- The Bushnell

Cast of Kinky Boots. Photo: Matthew Murray
Accepting People for Who They Are – Even if They are a Bit Kinky
By Lauren Yarger
Messages about acceptance, opening your mind, forgiving and accepting people for who they are abound in a solid and energy-filled tour of Kinky Boots making a stop this week at The Bushnell.

Kyle Taylor Parker, one of the “Angels”  and an understudy for  the role in the 2013 Tony-Award-winning Broadway version (which is still playing to packed houses at the Al Hirshfeld Theatre in New York), plays Lola, a drag queen who joins forces with shoe factory owner Charlie Price (Steven Booth) to design a line of “kinky boots” for men who want to dress as women.

The show’s book is by Harvey Fierstein, based on the film written by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth and boasts music and lyrics by pop star Cyndi Lauper (who won the Tony for best score) and direction and choreography by Jerry Mitchell. I wasn’t all that impressed with the Broadway version, to be honest. It seemed to want to force its politically correct message (the book seemed flawed with gaps) and focus on making a star of Billy Porter, who won the Tony for playing Lola. This production, however, focuses on storytelling and relationships, and is much more satisfying with a cast that is cohesive and story elements coming into sharper view.

Here’s the gist:
When Charlie steps in to save Lola when she is threatened by a couple of thugs, the two become friends. They have a lot in common, despite obvious differences. They especially bond over a sense of not being able to follow in the footsteps their fathers wanted for them in a beautiful ballad, “I’m Not My Father’s Son.” Charlie had run off to London with his materialistic girlfriend, Nicola (Grace Stockdale) despite his father’s hopes that he would take over the family business, Price and Son Shoe Company in Northampton, England. 

"May you never fail to point your shoes back home," his father says. When his father dies, he does, but only to find that the factory is failing. He must come up with a way to save it, or it will have to be sold, which is OK with Nicola, who sees dollar signs from the potential condominium conversion. But that will put all of the workers, and Charlie’s long-time friends, like Lauren (
Lindsay Nicole Chambers) -- who amusingly finds that she is attracted to the childhood boy she thought was stuffy --  and its manager, George (an amusing Craig Waletzko), out of jobs.

Lola, formerly Simon, was rejected by his father who trained him as a boxer to try to make a “man” out of the little boy with a penchant for women’s heels. He hasn’t talked to him in years.

Meanwhile, Lola and her “angels” – a.k.a. backup singers in her drag show -- keep breaking the heels of the women's shoes they wear since they aren’t designed to hold the weight of men, and Charlie is inspired to create a new line of "kinky boots" designed specifically for transvestites.  He needs someone with first-hand knowledge of the product to design it, however, and convinces Lola to come back to Northampton with him. 

Lola is reluctant to go to a small town, where bullies like factory worker Don (an excellent
Joe Coots), mock him, but he agrees to help his new friend, Charlie, who seems accepting and willing to listen. 

Soon a line of kinky, colorful boots that Lola describes as "two and a half feet of tubular sex" start moving off the assembly line and Charlie makes plans to launch them at a shoe show in Milan (Gregg Barnes designs the sparkling, kinky costumes and boots).

The factory that produced a "range of shoes for men," now produces a "range of shoes for a rage of men."

Problems ensue, however, when Charlie suddenly doesn't seem all that accepting of Lola and becomes more and more demanding of his workers. Lola and Don finally have it out with surprising results. Turns out many of the characters discover the importance of accepting people for who they are before it’s all over.

Lauper’s score is electric and fun. Mitchell playfully choreographs numbers on the shoe factory conveyor belt, part of the scenic design by David Rockwell. The one downside is that the lead vocals are not as strong as they should be, with some notes not quite finding their mark. The sound (originally designed by John Shivers) isn’t mixed well and it is hard to hear soloists at times.


The audience, which is packing in for this run, enthusiastically enjoyed the show and were singing the songs until they arrived at the nightmare that is the state parking lot across from the Bushnell. Add an extra half hour to your travel time (the show is about two and a half hours) since it will take you that long to get out with no one directing traffic. Check the Bushnell’s website for additional postings about traffic tie ups in the area.

Kinky Boots roll off the asembly line at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Harttford, through June 28. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday 1 and 6:30 pm. Tickets $26-$99. (860) 987-6000; www.bushnell.org.

The ensemble: Florrie Bagel, Joe Beauregard, Damien Brett, Stephen Carrasco, Lauren Nicole Chapman, Amelia Cormack, J. Harrison Ghee, Adam Halpin, Darius Harper, Nicholas Aaron Jenkins, Jeff Kuhr, Patty Lohr, Mike Longo, Tommy Martinez, Maggie McDowell, Jennifer Noble, Anthony Picarello, Griffin Reese, Jomil Elijah Robinson, Horace V. Rogers, Ricky Schroeder, Nick Sullivan, Anne Tolpegin, Juan Torres-Falcon, Hernando Umana and Sam Zeller …. Ensemble

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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