Review: KINKY BOOTS at Garden Theatre

There’s a lot more than what meets the eyes in SNS Production

By: Nov. 27, 2023
Review: KINKY BOOTS at Garden Theatre

Like its main character Lola, the show KINKY BOOTS has a lot more going on underneath than what shows on the surface.

The Short North Stage musical, which was brought together by Harvey Fierstein (book) and Cyndi Lauper (music/lyrics), runs Nov. 24 through Dec. 31 at the Garden Theatre (1187 N. High Street in downtown Columbus).

On its surface, KINKY BOOTS appears to be an outrageous comedy musical. Charlie Price (played by extraordinarily talented Corbin Payne) reluctantly inherits his father’s dream of running a shoe factory. After the death of his father (Jordan Young), Price learns the family business is in the death throes of a dismal British economy.

Faced with shutting down the shop and letting go many family friends in the process, Price has an unlikely encounter with drag queen and cabaret performer Lola (the fabulous Omari Collins), who needs quality footwear. The two form an unlikely friendship and come up with a plan to save the Price and Son shoe factory.

Like so many comedies, it calls for a suspension of belief. However, the show is “inspired by the true events” of the W.J. Brooks shoe company. Like the musical, the owner was on the verge of closing the family-run business when a local shop keeper convinced him to make women’s footwear designed for men. Unfortunately, true life doesn’t have a Hollywood ending for the shoe company as the sales of the “kinky boots” were not enough to keep the Brooks factory alive.

All the elements are there to make this Chari Arespacochaga-directed show a laugh-out-aloud, goofball comedy. However, KINKY BOOTS is one of those devious productions where the audience gets emotionally involved with the characters and takes in more of a message than they were originally expecting.

The show expertly tackles deeper issues than footwear: the relationships between fathers and sons, masculinity, compromising beliefs to conform into the mainstream, and the importance of accepting people for who they are.

Collins is clearly the swizzle stick that stirs this drink. When the actor struts on to the stage for “The Land of Lola,” one thinks the show is going down a light and airy path of the over-the-top life of a drag queen.

What Collins does later in the show is equally as remarkable as his turn in drag. Collins transforms from a cartoon character to a flesh-and-blood person as he struggles to become Simon, a male version of himself to be accepted as one of the guys at the shoe factory.

Towards the end of the first act, Charlie and Lola discover the similar theme of trying to live up to their fathers’ legacies. Lola’s dad was a boxer who trained his son to be the next champion of the world …up until the day he showed up at the ring in a white cocktail dress. Charlie’s father dreamed of the day his son would take over his ambition of running a shoe factory. The emotional apex of the show is the song, “Not My Father’s Son,” as Lola delivers poignant punches: “Look at me powerless and holding my breath/Trying hard to repress what scared him to death./It was never easy to be his type of man/To breathe freely was not in his plan/And the best part of me/Is what he wouldn't see.”

However, one swizzle stick doesn’t make an entire cocktail. Like so many other SNS productions, there is quality in the quantity. Both Lisa Glover (Lauren) and Sarah Chelli (Nicola) are strong as two women in a tug of war for Charlie’s affections. Chelli shines as the WASPy girlfriend who pulls Charlie away from the factory and toward London. Glover is lovely as the counterbalance, who drives Charlie back towards his father’s factory.

Jordan William Segal does an amazing job as Don, the blue collar factory bloke. Even when he is in the background, Segal uses a sneer to convey his disappointment in the factory’s new direction while his co-workers celebrate it. His arc from being a homophobic creep to an accepting employee is crucial to the success of the show.

The fellow co-workers at the plant are not simply pieces of a living backdrop. Each has a personality all his or her own. Nick Lingnofski shines as George, a polite German foreman who embraces the new vision. Wendy Cave’s Pat, who becomes infatuated with Lola, and Annie Huckaba’s Trish, whose taste in men includes ones “who bite,” draw laughs and add texture to the show as do Lizzie Huelskamp (as the Milan stage manager) and Justin LaBelle (Harry).

Although they don’t get many lines, the Angels (Cameron Edris, Louis Hansen, Miss Jaye, Mitchy Kallner, Hunter Minor, and PJ Palmer) bring a style all their own to KINKY BOOTS. The six showoff the choreography of Chaz Wolcott, the makeup work of Miss Jaye and the wig stylings of DC Simpson.

Those who come to KINKY BOOTS will find the comedy and the choreography they hoped for. However it is hoped they will walk away from it with a little better understanding of a world they don’t often encounter.

PHOTO CREDIT: Fyrebird Media


Review: KINKY BOOTS at Garden Theatre




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