Friday, February 26, 2016

Theater review: ‘Kinky Boots’ high-steps into the Dr. Phillips Center

Posted By on Fri, Feb 26, 2016 at 10:48 AM

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MATTHEW MURPHY
  • Photo by Matthew Murphy
Here in the U.S.A., we like to think we are unusually advanced on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, with everything from Lady Gaga to legal gay marriage offered as evidence. But the most sophisticated American metropolis is decades behind your average blue-collar village in the British boondocks, if the past decade of movie-inspired musicals are to believed. Whether you want to dance in ballet shoes (as in Billy Elliot) or your bare ass (The Full Monty, which was transplanted to the U.S. from the U.K. original), the coal miners and factory workers of the frigid North will support your right to self-expression regardless of heteronormative gender boundaries. Heck, this even applies to transvestites in the outback of former English penal colonies (according to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert)!

Now the national tour of Kinky Boots has high-stepped into town to tell us that that hard-scrabble Northampton is more welcoming to drag queens than the Parliament House during Gay Days, further eroding Orlando’s claim to be a leader on GLBTQ issues. Following the broad strokes of the 2005 film, which was in turn “inspired by a true story,” the 2013 Tony winner tells the story of Charlie Price (Adam Kaplan), the shallow scion of a failing shoe factory who teams up with charismatic cross-dressing designer Lola (J. Harrison Ghee) to save his family business by building mile-high shoes in men’s sizes.

Director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell, whose previous gender-bending hits include Hairspray, La Cage aux Folles and the 2000 revival of The Rocky Horror Show, has once again assembled a peppy, polished party that makes “freaks” appealing to average Americans, who can safely ogle Gregg Barnes’ eye-popping camp costumes without having their conventions truly challenged. Mitchell (with the help of post-modern modular set design savant David Rockwell) keeps everything moving with marvelously cinematic speed. Perhaps a bit too swiftly, since Harvey Fierstein’s book breezes past key plot moments (like Price and Lola’s meet-cute mugging) and elides important emotional beats, resulting in a light-footed first act and a perfunctory second part stuffed with illogical, plot-padding twists and plodding preaching to the choir.
Part of the problem is that Price is a callow protagonist who has zero chemistry with his gold-digging fiancée, Nicola (Charissa Hogeland), and Kaplan’s voice isn’t commanding enough to make his multitude of meh midtempo ballads bearable. That leaves Ghee to carry the show’s weight, which he does ably with or without wigs; his every entrance and exit deservedly draws Fonzie-like applause. Tiffany Engen is also a delight as Price’s lovesick subordinate, Lauren, delivering an Amy Poehler-worthy spaz-out during “History of Wrong Guys,” one of the only songs in Cyndi Lauper’s mostly unmemorable score that favorably recalls her 1980s pop classics. And while the entire ensemble is more than suitable – including understudy Damien Brett, who ably stood in as office manager George for Jim J. Bullock on opening night – only newcomer Joe Coots’ doughy doofus Don demonstrates any realistic reactions to the situation, and his conflict is conveniently defused long before the finale.

Despite all these failings, Kinky Boots is still the best entry so far in Fairwinds’ current Broadway Across America season. It might not have anything you can’t find at the Footlight Theatre every weekend, but it does present the faaabulous pleasures of female impersonation – albeit on a much bigger budget, and without the lip-syncing – to an audience that might otherwise never experience them.

Kinky Boots
8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26; 2 & 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27; 1 & 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 27
Walt Disney Theater, Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts
445 S. Magnolia Ave.
844-513-2014
$33.75-$128.75 

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