BWW Review: KINKY BOOTS at Dallas Summer Musicals
Kinky Boots began as a real story about a faltering shoe factory in England who's creation of drab men's footwear led to near failure. By tapping into a niche market of manufacturing structurally sound (yet stunning) boots for drag artists, they were able to turn a profit. The book by Harvey Fierstein and score by Cyndi Lauper tells a tale of struggle, acceptance, and growth that is familiar yet so refreshing in our current state of political turmoil and social intolerance.
The narrative is set by two young boys with similar socioeconomic backgrounds but varying interests. One young man, Charlie Price, is the son of a prominent shoe-manufacturer while the second, Simon, is the son of a former boxer. Charlie is fond of soccer and life outside the confines of the Price & Son's factory walls, while Simon's interests are in women's shoes and being free of the boxing ring. The opening number flashback does well to introduce Charlie [played by Curt Hansen] as an adult, on the brink of leaving their small suburban sprawl for illustrious London. With his girlfriend and a shiny new employment opportunity, Charlie abandons his childhood, factory family, and father.
But Charlie's freedom is short lived. Without having even fully moved into his flat, he is called back to his hometown due to his father's unexpected death, and the subsequent upheaval of production at the family shoe factory. Torn by his desire to make a life for himself and his moral duty to those who helped shape him, Charlie attempts to make good on his father's wishes to continue making Price & Son a prominent distributor of men's footwear.
While drowning his sorrows at a local pub, Charlie happens to witness a back-alley brawl. Men accosting what appears to be a well-appointed woman. But when Charlie runs to her aid, he ends up injured and wakes from a daze in the care of the drag queen, Lola [played by Timothy Ware], he was actually trying to save. After spending an evening under Lola's wing in the club, he witnesses the plight of proper footwear for men who parade as women. This notion blossoms into an idea that could save the factory if only he could convince his workers to take a chance on a new design for some Kinky Boots!
The introduction of Lola is where this tour really starts to find its legs. In stark contrast to the muted tones and rust stained windows of the Price & Son's factory, Lola's nightclub is bold, seedy, and downright sexy. Everything is augmented in the "Land of Lola": the costumes are racier, the set pieces are draped in lace and mylar, the music swells, and the heels are sky-high. Director and choreographer, Jerry Mitchell, smartly concocted the first few encounters with the London club-crew to showcase the contradictions between the hometown industry life and the brazenness of this downtown existence. The energy of the audience is palpable as we're introduced for the first time to this enigmatic crew of mystical mavens.
Drag queens are, by and large, bigger than life and Ware does well to command her coven of devilish damsels. Four of the six "Angels" really hit the choreography hard and emanated spark from the tips of their fingers to the spikes on their stilettos. It is a shame that same vivacity seemed to be lost on two of the girls, who often felt as though they couldn't be bothered in the group numbers. Perhaps it was a character choice to be the "over-it" personality, but the mismatched dynamics in effort were a bit distracting.
While Ware makes a stunning queen, her energy lacks ever so slightly in the uptempo numbers. She is sassy, but always seems to hold back and is ultimately less of a powerhouse performer than the previous tour's J. Harrison Ghee. Strikingly statuesque, she fares better in the softer character moments where the ballads "Not My Father's Son" and "Hold Me in Your Heart" take her voice to a gentler, comfortable place. Hansen as Charlie seems to take a bit of warming up at the top of the show as well. Hansen's voice has an interesting, albeit sometimes nasal, timbre which finds a healthy home in Lauper's 80's style rock ballads but is not always as palatable as his tour predecessor, Steven Booth.
Surprisingly, the true standout star of the tour is the seemingly mousey factory associate, and female love-interest, Lauren [played by Rose Hemingway]. Hemingway's raucous rendition of "The History of Wrong Guys" tackles all of the feels and worst fears of every 20 to 30-something woman in the audience. Complete with fiery fantasy kisses and perspiring-pits, Hemingway's self-deprecating comedic timing proves to be the sharpest of the cast and its only a shame she doesn't have more spotlight moments in the script. Each time she is on stage she shines with the air of professionalism one expects of a Broadway starlet.
What Kinky Boots does right vastly outweighs the few moments that felt a bit kitten-heeled. Costuming of the Angels by Gregg Barnes is impeccable, lusty, and downright delectable. David Rockwell's interchangeable set design is truly well utilized and provides consistent and seamless transitions through each tableau. The sound is clear and the cast collaborates beautifully with the live orchestra. But predominantly, what this show does best is condone a responsibility of acceptance for others. Fierstein's expression of this story creates such a sense of camaraderie amongst its audiences. You will be hard pressed to find a more life-affirming chorus than that of "Raise You Up" which quickly had the Dallas audience on its feet!
Kinky Boots is such a relevant, sincere story that tackles bullying and prejudice with an honest message "you change the world when you change your mind." Put your best foot forward and support this valuable show through April 9th. To purchase tickets log on to www.dallassummermusicals.org.