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BWW REVIEW: KINKY BOOTS Kicks Up Its Heels on Boston Leg of National Tour

Book by Harvey Fierstein; music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper; based on the Miramax motion picture KINKY BOOTS written by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth; directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell; music supervision, arrangements and orchestrations by Stephen Oremus; scenic design, David Rockwell; costume design, Gregg Barnes; lighting design, Kenneth Posner; sound design, John Shivers; hair design, Josh Marquette; make-up design, Randy Houstaon Mercer; music director, Adam Souza; production stage manager, Gregory R. Covert

Cast in Order of Appearance:

Mr. Price, Nick Sullivan; Young Charlie, Anthony Picarello (alternating with Griffin Reese); Young Lola, Nicholas Aaron Jenkins (alternating with Jomil Elijah Robinson); Simon Sr., Horace V. Rogers; Nicola, Grace Stockdale; Charlie Price, Steven Booth; George, Craig Waletzko; Don, Joe Coots; Lauren, Lindsay Nicole Chambers; Pat, Florrie Bagel; Harry, Mike Longo; Lola, Kyle Taylor Parker; Angels, Joe Beaugregard, Darius Harper, Tommy Martinez, Ricky Schroeder, Juan Torres-Falcon, Hernando Umana; Trish, Amelia Cormack; Richard Bailey, Adam Halpin; Milan Stage Manager, Anne Tolpegin; Additional Ensemble, Damien Brett, Lauren Nicole Chapman, Jennifer Noble, Sam Zeller

Performances and Tickets:

Now through August 30, Broadway in Boston, Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street, Boston; tickets start at $44 and are available online at www.BroadwayinBoston.com or by calling Ticketmaster at 800-982-2787.

The sex may be in the heels, but in KINKY BOOTS the fun is in Cyndi Lauper's Tony and Grammy Award-winning score, a bouncy pop techno-disco party which keeps the musical's pedestrian plot from (ahem) dragging the show down. Based on the 2005 film of the same name and inspired by a true story, KINKY BOOTS celebrates what happens when a high-strutting drag queen named Lola kick-starts the resurgence of a struggling men's shoe manufacturer by introducing a line of steel-heeled stiletto fashion boots strong enough to support the weight of a man but gorgeous enough to wow the runways of Milan.

The thigh-high product at the heart of KINKY BOOTS finds success in the niche markets of female impersonators and nightclub performers, but the Tony Award-winning musical, now in Boston through August 30, has found success on Broadway, in five national and world tours, and with a Grammy Award-winning cast album. It's clear that drag has crossed over into the mainstream, and a good deal of credit for that happy circumstance should go to the show's prolific and irrepressible librettist Harvey Fierstein. With works such as La Cage Aux Folles, Torch Song Trilogy and Casa Valentina (which will be produced in Boston this season by SpeakEasy Stage Company) to his name, Fierstein has led the way in putting gay and transsexual characters at the center of popular plays and musicals.

If KINKY BOOTS follows in the footsteps of La Cage Aux Folles a little too closely, feeling more like a Northampton, England knock-off than a Paris original, it's because Lola (played here with a combination of delicious sass and browbeaten vulnerability by Kyle Taylor Parker) bears a strong resemblance to Albin, the tart and tender drag queen of La Cage who also makes no apologies for who he/she is. In fact, Lola's passionate torch song "Hold Me in Your Heart" brings to mind Albin's defiant anthem of self-respect "I Am What I Am." Reminiscent but not derivative of that Jerry Herman battle cry, this tender, Motown-inflected power ballad is a crowning moment for Lauper, Lola and Parker. In fact it packs a more subtle wallop by making it as much about Lola's forgiveness of the wrongs done to her through the years as about her hard-won self-confidence - and Parker mines every layer of its meaning in a bravura performance.

The rest of KINKY BOOTS is a bit of a hit or miss. Long stretches of book scenes do little more than mark time until the next song or production number kicks the show back into overdrive. The plot detailing how Charlie (Steven Booth) meets and teams up with Lola to save the failing high-end men's shoe factory he has inherited from his father takes too many predictable and unnecessary twists and turns on its way to the inevitable happy ending. Secondary characters - a corporate-driven girlfriend, her opportunistic boss, and a musician friend who has sold out to the world of low-end mass marketing - detract from the more important story. They come off as cardboard cut-out villains compared to Charlie and Lola, unlikely business partners whose efforts to create something spectacular lead to more than mere financial success. As each struggles to understand the other, they also struggle to emerge from the long shadows cast by their overbearing fathers. More alike than different, Charlie and Lola ultimately learn that they are indeed "real men" in their own unique ways.

As Charlie, Booth starts out slowly but eventually wins his employees and the audience over when he enthusiastically takes "Step One" to save the factory and everyone's job. In the process he also finds his purpose and enjoys a blossoming sense of self-respect. He also begins to see the talents and virtues of the hard-working Lauren (Lindsay Nicole Chambers) whose advice to "change the product to what someone does want" lays the groundwork for the failing Price and Sons Ltd to evolve into the smashingly successful Kinky Boots Factory. Lauren, now smitten with Charlie, also gets to sing the knock-out comic number "The History of Wrong Guys," which Chambers wrings for every ironic laugh.

The supporting cast is equally strong, and they deliver Jerry Mitchell's tart and tangy disco-inflected choreography with gusto and panache. The singing and dancing showstopper is the Act I closer "Everybody Say Yeah" in which brawny factory workers and drag nightclub chorus members alike celebrate the launch of Charlie and Lola's new line of durable yet elegant fashion boots. Frolicking on the assembly line as if the conveyor belts were tread mills, the ensemble not only gets Price and Sons' new prototypes ready for the big Milan fashion show on time, they get a great cardio burn, as well.

This national tour of KINKY BOOTS works like a well-oiled machine. The story may not be breaking much new ground, but Cyndi Lauper's infectious score and a solid cast led by the dazzling Kyle Taylor Parker as Lola are enough to make the trip down the catwalk worthwhile.

PHOTOS BY MATTHEW MURPHY: Kyle Taylor Parker as Lola and The Angels; Kyle Taylor Parker; Steven Booth as Charlie Price and Kyle Taylor Parker; Lindsay Nicole Chambers as Lauren and Steven Booth; the cast of KINKY BOOTS; Steven Booth, Kyle Taylor Parker and The Angels


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From This Author Jan Nargi