Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Based on the 2005 independent film and the true story that inspired that movie, Kinky Boots tells the story of two very different men in England. Charlie and Simon (aka drag queen Lola) may be almost exact opposites, but when they realize they come from similar small England towns and backgrounds they put aside their differences to form a partnership for a common cause in order to save Charlie's family-owned shoemaking business. They decide to stop production of the company's men's shoe line, which isn't selling and is forcing the business into bankruptcy, and, hoping to tap into an underserved niche market, start production of a line of kinky boots, the type of outrageous footwear a drag queen extraordinaire like Lola knows intimately.
Under a tight deadline, personalities clash and tensions mount as Charlie and Lola attempt to work together and create the right style of fetish footwear in time to make it to the big shoe show in Milan and save the business.
While the plot is somewhat simple and there are a couple of contrived moments, Lauper's infectious score and Harvey Fierstein's colorful and succinct book make this a musical that is both fun and even sometimes dramatic in the unpredictable way it gets to its upbeat and energetic ending. The duo have also baked into the show some beautiful messages about how getting to know people who are different from oneself can end up changing people's minds and their views on things, as well as the importance of self-worth and acceptance.
Lauper won the Tony for her score and it is a rich collection of beautiful ballads and upbeat anthems that are filled with infectious beats and hooks that you'll most likely be humming for days. With so many stand out tunes it's hard to believe this is her first Broadway composition. Fierstein's book, like Lauper's lyrics, has humor and heart and delivers many nicely shaded characters.
The creative team for this tour includes DB Bonds and Rusty Mowery who are associates on the Broadway production and who have flawlessly recreated Jerry Mitchell's impressive Tony-nominated original direction and Tony-winning choreography, respectively. While this touring production does eliminate the two younger versions of Charlie and Simon that originally appeared in the opening number of the show, and David Rockwell's set design, which recreates a beautiful factory setting, is slightly reduced (assumedly in order to make traveling from city to city on the tour better), the rest of the production elements are top notch and on par with the original Broadway production. The bright and inventive costumes of Gregg Barnes, which include an assortment of sensational boot designs, are accented by superb hair designs and make up from Josh Marquette and Brian Strumwasser. Kenneth Posner won the Tony for his evocative, colorful and lush lighting as did John Shivers for his crisp and clear sound design, which are both reproduced here effectively.
The cast all deliver well nuanced and realistic portrayals of these lovable characters. Lola is the flashier of the two lead roles and Jos N. Banks does well with a powerful voice and solid stage presence in delivering a larger than life performance of Lola while also providing some nice quieter moments when he's out of drag as the shy and nervous Simon. Lance Bordelon is superb as Charlie, even better than the other two men I've seen play this role on Broadway and in the first national tour. Bordelon provides an exquisite range of emotions, from frustration and confusion to complete joy and adulation. He instills the role with so much naturalness that the slightly clunky script moments where he and Lola first meet and the confrontation the two have in the second act don't come across as out of sorts as they did when I saw this show before. Bordelon's singing voice is also sensational. Together Banks and Bordelon create a winning duo that comes across as the natural result of the unique and realistic friendship that you'd imagine would be formed between a somewhat conservative straight man and a drag queen.
In smaller supporting parts, Sydney Patrick is a hoot as factory worker Lauren who finds she has a crush on Charlie, and Adam du Plessis makes the rugged factory worker Don, who has an issue with Lola and people who aren't "normal," both funny and touching. Fierstein's book gives the role of Don a few moments to grow as a character and du Plessis does well in portraying this man who changes over the course of the show. John Anker Bow gets a few nice moments to shine as the factory foreman George and Hayley Lampart does well as Charlie's girlfriend Nicola. The entire ensemble provide realistic portrayals of factory workers, and the six men who play Lola's Angels, who perform at the club with her, are not only extremely hardworking but also incredibly talented in their athletic and dancing abilities.
I believe the reason that Kinky Boots has become an audience favorite and such a crowd pleaser of a show is because it presents two vastly different men who come to the realization that they aren't so different after all and that they need each other to succeed. That powerful and simple message is something audiences can immediately connect to and learn from. Watching this group of characters overcome their obstacles to find success is the reason this show is such a simple joy to watch and be pulled into.
With an excellent cast, the second national tour of this Tony Winning Best Musical is both charming and humorous but also incredibly heartwarming.
Kinky Boots, through February 18th, 2018, at the Orpheum Theatre, at 203 W Adams Street, Phoenix AZ. Information on this show and upcoming Broadway at the Orpheum shows can be found at theaterleague.com/phoenix/. More information on the tour can be found at kinkybootsthetour.com.
Music and Lyrics: Cyndi Lauper