Kinky Boots Is A Sexy Kick To Close The Fox Broadway Season

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Steven Booth and Darius Harper in Kinky Boots, through 4/5/15 at the Fox. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

The 2014-2015 US Bank Broadway Series at the Fabulous Fox Theatre come so to a close with the dazzling musical Kinky Boots. Based on a true story and the 2005 movie of the same name, the Harvey Fierstein (book) and Cyndi Lauper (score) was the darling of the 2013 Tony Awards, winning Best Musical, Best Original Score (Lauper is the first woman in history to win the Tony as a solo female composer), Best Choreography (Jerry Mitchell), Best Orchestrations (Stephen Oremus), Best Sound Design (John Shivers) and Best Lead Actor (Billy Porter). It was also nominated in 7 other categories. That’s quite an accomplishment, and it’s well deserved. Kinky Boots is a sharp, sparkly story of acceptance in the tradition of Hairspray, featuring performances that will stay with the Fox faithful all summer.

The story is fairly simple, though there are a lot of subplots to weave together. South Hampton lad Charlie Price (Steven Booth, with Anthony Picarello as Young Charlie) is a man who grew up in the family shoe factory which has fallen on hard times. The Price and Son product line just isn’t in demand anymore. When the elder Price (Kenny Morris) passes away Charlie finds himself called back from planning his London wedding to Nicola (Grace Stockdale) who wants the biggest and best of everything. While he struggles to find a way to save the family legacy and not have to fire the people who grew up with, Nicola grows impatient. After a troubling day, Charlie encounters a couple of hooligans giving a lady a rough time and he valiantly tries to even the odds but pays the price for his chivalry. The lady brings him into the nearby club where she performs her show…her drag queen show. Yep, in the immortal words of Austin Powers, “That ain’t no woman-- that’s a man, man!” Indeed, Lola (Darius Harper, with Jomil Elijah Robinson as the younger version) is the drag queen person of Simon, a rebellious misfit from the sticks with a heart of gold…and sequins. During the fracas outside, Lola’s boot heel was broken. Charlie offers to fix it, immediately spots several flaws in the design and then realizes there could be an untapped niche market for sexy gender-bending footwear. He hires Lola/Simon to be his new designer, and soon the first Kinky Boot prototype is ready. Not everyone is happy about this turn of events, as Nicola is fuming about the endless delays and Don (Joe Coots), the factory tough guy, immediately has issues with Lola strutting around the factory like the company’s own Col. Klinger from M*A*S*H. Charlie promotes Lauren (Lindsay Nicole Chambers) to an executive level, and she comes to realize she’s got a crush on her boss. Tensions rise as they work feverishly to get their boots to a big Milan footwear show. As you might expect, it all works out for the best in the end.

The first thing I noticed about this production was that it was lavish. The David Rockwell sets are gorgeous, filling the Fox stage with ambiance, something I didn’t get at all when Chicago came through town last year. The costumes by Tony winner Gregg Barnes are brilliant, and Lola’s Angels (J. Harrison Ghee, Tommy Martinez, Nick McGough, Ricky Schroeder, Juan Torres-Falcon, and Hermando Umana) are so well made-up that even from only a few rows away I couldn’t help but wonder, “So wait…are those really all dudes up there, or is that one…or…well…huh.” I confess, I don’t understand the drag queen lifestyle in the slightest, but hey, work with what you got. These gents worked it better than a lot of ladies I’ve seen. In fact, the whole cast might just be the tightest group of dancers I’ve seen this year. They executed director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell’s dance sequences crisply and with pizzazz.  Lola, the Angels and the ensemble were particularly strong.

The acting is wonderful, driven by Darius Harper who wowed the opening night crowd with his (or is “her” more appropriate here?) sultry diva vocals, intense emotional connection and terrific one-liners. Lindsay Nicole Chambers was outstanding as Charlie’s slow-burning love interest, handling comedic acting with hilarious expressions with aplomb and delivering what for me was the most memorable number of the night, “The History of Wrong Guys.” While the songs are fine throughout, that one in particular really felt like a true Cyndi Lauper pop classic, with her quirky sense of humor shining through thanks to Chambers’ excellent performance.  Joe Coots was perfect as Lola’s workplace foil, and his appearance in the grand finale of “Raise You Up/Just Be” brought the house down. Steven Booth demonstrates a wide range of emotion and a fine voice, but what was most evident was his natural chemistry with Mr. Harper. You can’t teach that. It’s equal parts science and magic when two people in any walk of life fit together as perfectly as the two leads in this show do, and that alchemy overcomes all else, such as a faulty microphone that cost elder Price Kenny Morris about 90% of his song to start the show. That technical mishap was the only real flaw of the show.

For me this season at the Fox has been a mixed bag, but Kinky Boots delivered and will help end the 2014-2015 Broadway Series on a high note. It didn’t really help me to understand drag queens any better than I did before, but like Don in the story I came away with an appreciation of the men under the makeup and the flamboyant outfits. It really doesn't matter if I get it. They do. Be yourself. Who else can?

Kinky Boots runs March 24 through April 5, 2015 at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis. For ticket information as well as the latest on concerts and one-off performances at the Fox, visit www.FabulousFox.com

Grade: 
4.5 / 5.0