BWW Review: KINKY BOOTS Kicks Booty At Toby's In Columbia
As per usual, I know nothing about KINKY BOOTS beyond Cyndi Lauper writing music and lyrics. Despite having mentioned it in my last review of Toby's, I've managed to forget it was a movie first. Something about a shoe factory. That's about it.
Director Mark Minnick brings a giant Broadway favorite to the intimate Toby's setting, with excellent results. We are treated to a lively romp which balances unconventional with a generous assortment of familiar elements. As per usual again, I won't cover the plot. It's a fine, sturdy plot, if predictable, and the structure is about as one expects, with songs at customary intervals. Cyndi Lauper shines with lyrics and music, which understandably echo '80s glam rock. Harvey Fierstein brings his signature contemporary comedy to the dialogue. In charge of musical direction and orchestration for Toby's is Ross Scott Rawlings, serving a heaping helping of melodic marvelousness. Guitarists Max Kazanow and Kim Spath earn their picks with particular prowess.
Dinner's good, (I recommend tonight's special drink, The Milan), the lighting's good, the set is nimble and swift-moving. Occasionally there's microphone glitching, and the lyrics are sometimes difficult to understand. Hard to determine if that's distortion or the English accent all the performers use for this show, which debuted in West End originally, and is set in Northampton, East Midlands, England. The cast members are consistent with their accents, and attention's been paid to location and class, a detail often overlooked in lesser productions.
Five actors in KINKY BOOTS are debuting at Toby's. One of these, playing Young Lola, is Joseph Wanji, in a small but crucial role. He demonstrates excellence in timing and emotive movement. (His counterpart, Jonah Hale as Young Charlie, is also a pint of performance power, though already a confident pro with several Toby's appearances to his credit.) Debuting actor Ryan Holmes, in another small but crucial role, is wonderful as Simon, Sr- he's vocally very expressive, and has a terrific face. I anticipate his participation in future Toby's productions.
A smorgasboard of stellar favorites complete the cast. As Lauren, Jana Bernard is delightfully awkward and comically physical. In the somewhat unsympathetic role of Nicola, MaryKate Brouillet is brilliant and brittle. The fabulous Ms. Jane Boyle, in a non-comic role, is excellent support as Trish. Russell Sunday as Don is gruff and testosterone-positive. Notably watchable are the Angels: David Singleton (also co-choreographer), Randyn Fullard, Solomon Parker, newcomers Mark Sullivan and Michael Mattocks, and Ariel Messeca, who admits to never before performing in heels. The troupe is so attention-grabbing, I risk missing mainstage action.
Matt Hirsch, playing Charlie, delivers a more mature and nuanced performance than his usual prettyboy heroic roles generally permit. It is largely the vocal and physical antics of Helen Hayes Award-winning DeCarlo Raspberry as Lola that gives Toby's production of KINKY BOOTS much of its power and drive. His amazing, often gravity-defying movements are fascinating, and his powerhouse vocals delightful. The remarkable chemistry between Lola and Charlie/ Raspberry and Hirsch derives authenticity from its uneasy discomfort paired with a bizarre level of trust and risk-acceptance. I imagine this dynamic being tricky to represent after having been castmates and perhaps friends in previous productions. I'm truly impressed by the weird cautious intimacy of "I'm Not My Father's Son."
As directed and co-choreographed by Mark Minnick (with David Singleton), Toby's production of KINKY BOOTS is a rollicking fun show, with punch, punchlines and poignancy. Despite its fairly standard Blues Brothers-esque premise, the show defies traditional musicals in several interesting ways. There are nice duets, none romantic. Awkwardness and mistakes act as creative force, not comeuppance. No damsels are in distress. Father relationships are explored openly. The dichotomy between what one thinks one wants and what truly makes one happy is a central theme. There is no Yippee Everything's Okay triumph. A compellingly important thing, however, about this KINKY BOOTS is its admirable accessibility. While KINKY BOOTS is not widely regarded as a family-fare musical, it's significantly less racy than MAMMA MIA!, which is. Look, this is a show you can bring Grandma to see, provided she's even a little bit Q+ Community-friendly. This being live theater, I expect every one of us who shows up to any performance of anything is, and that we're actively recruiting those who aren't to join us in the blink of an eye and the bang of a boot heel.
KINKY BOOTS plays at Toby's through March 22. SHREK THE MUSICAL opens March 27th, 2020.
Toby's Dinner Theatre is in Columbia, Maryland, easily accessed from 29 Southbound, with plenty of free parking all around the building.
Photo: DeCarlo Raspberry as Lola and Matt Hirsch as Charlie Price
Photo Credit: Jeri Tidwell Photography
Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia,5900 Symphony Woods Road,Columbia, MD 21044
For additional information including pricing, buffet menu and directions, visit www.tobysdinnertheatre.com.
For tickets, phone the box office at 410-730-8311, 301-596-6161 or 1-800-88-TOBYS 10 am - 9 pm. Doors open at 6pm Tuesday through Saturday evenings, with dinner from 6:30-7:20 for an 8 pm showtime. Wednesday and Sunday Matinees, the buffet is 10:30-11:50 am for a 12:30 pm show. Sunday evening supper is at 5:30 pm, with a 7 pm showtime. The show runs about one and a half hours, including a 20 minute intermission.