Kinky Boots – Review

Kinky

Darius Harper as Lola. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

 

Kinky Boots

Book by: Harvey Fierstein

Music and Lyrics: Cyndi Lauper

Directed by: Jerry Mitchell

Company: Theatre Under the Stars

Run Dates: February 10 – 22, 2015

 

Daddy issues. We all got em. Whether you buy into the Freudian/Jungian theory of intrinsic competition in the parent child relationship or the more modern understanding of how fatherly archetypes shape our personality, it’s fair to say that our Dads have the potential to mess us up. It’s why playwrights from Shakespeare to Miller and too many more to mention have mined this complex relationship to dramatic effect in their works. But what about a musical treatment of the complex? Not one of those thinky-singing, intellectual examinations that are still in vogue in certain circles. A big, glitzy, show-stopping number kind of musical? Well if you slapped a dress on it and bedazzled the frock with oodles of glitter and sequins, you’d get the Tony-award winning Kinky Boots.

Based on a 2005 film, which in turn was inspired by a true story, Kinky Boots’ stage sashay was the creation of Tony-award winning playwright/actor Harvey Fierstein (book) and 80’s pop icon Cyndi Lauper (lyrics and music). While the circumstances that propel the show may be a little left of mainstream (that is if you consider drag queens unconventional after all this time), the arc is a bulls-eye utopian feel good musical from start to finish.

Charlie Price (Steven Booth) is the son of a men’s shoe factory owner in small town outside of London. Choosing not to go into her father’s business, Charlie and his sweetheart Nicola (Grace Stockdale) hightail it to London to take jobs as marketing flaks in a swanky firm. But Charlie’s Dad’s sudden death forces him back to the factory to literally and metaphorically fill his father’s shoes. In place as head fo the company, Charlie struggles with both sagging sales and his own issues about not living up to his father’s expectations. Enter the man in the dress, Lola (Darius Harper) a fab-u-lous drag queen with daddy issues of his own whose boxer-father never accepted him as he was. So much so that poor Lola can only feel comfortable in her wigs and dresses and stilettos that could easily strike oil. Problem is, his feet are killing him. The reason being, as Charlie the sudden shoe maker expert points out when the two meet, is that heels engineered for a woman (and cheaply made) are no way for a guy to walk through life. Quicker than you can say Manolo, the unlikely, but similar(as the musical desperately wants us to understand) pair strike up a deal where Charlie will turn his ailing business into a kinky boot factory for cross dressers and Lola will leave the night club scene and come design for him. Will it work, won’t it work? And what will happen when tensions arise between Charlie and Lola? It will all be decided at the international shoe show in Milan where the kinky boot new creations will be unveiled on the catwalk.

With no doubt how it’s all going to turn out in the end, we are left to marinate in the spectacle of the costumes and the set design and the music.  Mostly these  do a fine job of making this utopian-simple storyline bearable and downright fun in places.

Lauper’s lyrics won’t capture your heart or head, especially not with a song called ‘Everybody say Yeah’ that comprises seemingly endless shouts of “yeah” from the singers without much else to the number.  In other songs, such as ‘Step One’, Lauper’s lyrics choose rhyme over substance with lines like, “This is time for a shake-up, Look at me wake up, taking control. This is a new beginning, my gears are spinning, let’s rock’n’roll.” But what the lyrics lack, Lauper makes up for by giving us flashy if forgettable arrangements that provide showstopper moments for characters creating a celebratory atmosphere throughout most of the show.  All of this is wonderfully supported by David Rockwell’s sets design which conjure the kind of factory hipsters would kill to reclaim as a loft and Gregg Barnes’s costume design that delivers drag get ups and high-heeled boots to die for.

But if we’re here to bask in the sparkly confection fun of this show, the buzz is harshed unforgivably by lackluster choreography and middling performances. Throughout much of the show, Lola is flanked by a gaggle of drag queen backup singer/dancers called the Angels. They accompany him in his nightclub acts and they serve as models for the new boots, requiring their presence in the factory often. Decked out to the nines in full drag regalia and led by Harper’s strong voice, the Angels should have shaken their booty till the roof fell down, but instead under Director/Choreographer Jerry Mitchell’s staging; they barely get the walls shaking. Some of the problem seems to be the cramped space in which the Angles are confined, this is a busy set with not tons of room to really let loose. But had the choreography branched out beyond arm waves and the occasional splits and had the Angles been more talented dancers, these problems could have been overcome.

Overcoming most of the problems with the performances could have been dealt with in one word. Accent. Not a single one of the cast members manages a convincing working class accent. It’s not exaggeration to say that nowhere has the word ‘wanker’ been more butchered. British slang aside, Booth’s Charlie is as flat as the chests of the Angles out of costume. While his voice carries through strongly in his numbers, Booth flies through the fast paced show mechanically without any warmth or connection. Harper fares better thanks in part to a role that gives him the best lines and shines the spotlight on his terrific voice. But like any drag character at the center of a show (Hedwig, Frankenfurter, Albin) the charisma needs to come not from the costume and make up, but from the performer himself. In Harper’s case it’s hit and miss. In the infectious number, ‘Sex is in the Heels’ Harper’s energy has us in the palm of his hand and his performance in a cleverly staged boxing match against a close-minded factory worker helps make that scene one of the best. But Harper lacks spark in the slower numbers, most notably in the duet ‘Not my Father’s Son’where he and Charlie spell out their daddy issues for those that need reminding. Here Harper does little to make us feel Lola’s loss or pain. It’s a vocally strong but dialed in performance seemingly waiting to once again don the heels and get back to the fun stuff.

Truth is, in this production, Charlie and Lola may be the stars, but the spotlight belongs completely to Lauren (the risibly accented but stupendously comedic Lindsay Nicole Chambers), a factory worker with a crush on Charlie. With her lithe physicality that never shies away from gawkiness for a laugh, Chambers brings the house down in her solo number ‘The History of Wrong Guys’. Wrestling with her newly realized interest in Charlie, Lauren gets the very best of Lauper’s lyrics, “You used to be so “eh”, a limp lackluster bore. But now you’re changing into something I just can’t ignore.” But it’s Chambers’ goofy embodiment of her character that truly makes the lines come to life in song and throughout the show.  It may not be easy to steal the spotlight away from a 6 foot something drag queen, but Chambers is the one we watch and look forward to seeing again and again.

By the time the musical moves to Milan, we’ve been entertained highly and made to wish there was more talent in this soft ball sexual tolerance/learning to love yourself for who you are/letting go of your father complex show. Carl Jung once said, the question is not whether one has complexes. We all do. The proper question is whether we have them or they have us. In the case of Kinky Boots, the overly earnest and irony free show has us just enough to say we’ve had a good time but drops the ball too many times for us to want to commit fully to its therapy.

 

RATING

For the pearl clutchers – This is drag queen light. There are no alternative sexual relationships or even sexual situations in this story. Yes, there are men in women’s clothing discussing shoes, but that’s about as far out there as it gets. The accept yourself and others for who they are message goes down easy and may just entertain even your delicate sensibilities. MAYBE SEE IT

For musical fans – There are lots of big-ticket numbers here and while not all of them take off in full choreographed splendour, there is enough to keep your toe tapping. Don’t expect to fall in love with any of the music or lyrics and you’ll have a grand time. SEE IT

For theatre junkies – This is a fair production of a good but not great show. Yes it won the Tony for best musical and Lauper went home with the Tony for her work as well but as we all know, awards don’t necessarily mean great work. If you’re the type of theater goer that needs to rack up award winners in your canon then by all means, go. Otherwise, kicking off your shoes and sitting this one out wouldn’t be uncalled for. MAYBE SEE IT

Advertisements

One comment

  1. Lynn Slotkin · February 12, 2015

    wwoooooow!!!! L

    Date: Thu, 12 Feb 2015 17:35:27 +0000 To: slotkin@sympatico.ca

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s