Stages

Kinky Boots A Fun Take on Timely Issues

J. Harrison Ghee stars as Lola in the national tour of "Kinky Boots." (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

J. Harrison Ghee stars as Lola in the national tour of “Kinky Boots.” (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Kinky Boots, which began its journey to Broadway in Chicago several years ago and is based on the 2005 film of the same name, has returned for a limited-engagement at the Oriental Theatre through September 4th. The show, with a book by Harvey Fierstein and music by Cyndi Lauper, tells the story of Charlie Price, the son of a shoe mogul and next-in-line to run the business, and the trials and tribulations he faces trying to save the factory–and its employees–from going under. Charlie–and Price and Son–chances of success are increased when Charlie discovers Lola, the fabulous London drag queen, who agrees to help Charlie transform his business to cater to the niche market of men in search of a high-heeled boot as sturdy as it is fashionable.

One of Kinky Boots‘ strengths is the willingness of its actors to have fun. J. Harrison Ghee’s Lola and Adam Kaplan’s Charlie are full of energy and perform their songs with impeccable form, managing to hit the book’s comedy without shying away from some of the more emotionally vulnerable aspects of the story. Similarly winsome is Tiffany Engen’s turn as Lauren, Charlie’s employee-and-torch-bearer who pines for their relationship to blossom into something more, despite Charlie’s fiancee. Engen’s performance of “The History of Wrong Guys” is a highlight of this production, complete with an array of slapstick dance combinations.

With its uniformly solid leads, writing, and music, Kinky Boots is a fun piece of entertainment with a few important messages about tolerance and individuality thrown in for good measure. The production, which features some particularly lively choreography by Jerry Mitchell, is visually charming and full of bright colors. At one moment in the musical, conveyor belts are used to spectacular choreographic effect in a dance that is reminiscent of band OK Go’s hit music video “Here It Goes Again.” While David Rockwell’s set doesn’t shy away from the Northampton industrial grunge of Price and Son, it is still capable of transforming into more vibrant locations: one of Lola’s drag shows and a trip to Milan for a climactic fashion show feature a bevy of bright, saturated lights that pulse with their own energy. Even the dreary, smudged windows of Price and Son are transformed by light, brightening the factory as well as its characters’ hopes.

With issues of gender and transphobia making the headlines off and on for the past few years, Kinky Boots, despite all of its whimsy and charm, still has some concrete messages to deliver. Lola’s story–as well as Charlie’s–are centered around the need to be one’s self, and the struggle to find one’s self amidst parental expectations. Additionally, Don (Aaron Walpole), a particularly “macho” employee at Price and Son, learns lessons in acceptance as a center piece of the second act. All of these themes give Kinky Boots a bit more weight than its otherwise vibrant packaging would provide; however, despite its strengths, this production feels a bit restrained, perhaps as a result of the somewhat lackluster, mostly yelectronic band, or the sound system, which seems to confine most of the musical’s sound to the stage.

Kinky Boots was performed at the Oriental Theatre through September 4.

Categories: Stages, Theater

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