BWW Review: 3-D Theatricals Gets Glam with its Fun, Fierce, and Fabulous KINKY BOOTS
There are certainly plenty of movie-to-stage adaptations that have appeared (and continue to pop up) on Broadway, but few can boast being one of the most jubilant and unabashedly open-minded as the gloriously glam 2012 hit KINKY BOOTS, the Tony Award-winning stage musical adaptation of Geoff Deane and Tim Firth's 2005 independent cult film inspired by actual true events. The critical and audience favorite---which features memorable music from Grammy-winning pop icon Cyndi Lauper and a book by Tony winner Harvey Fierstein---enjoyed a healthy run on Broadway and in several national tours that followed, spreading its genuinely heartwarming yet cheekily-delivered message of acceptance and empathy without a wink of irony or preachiness.
Since an upsurge of anti-LGBTQ bullying has unfortunately risen in the past few years, the timing of this openly progressive, crowd-pleasing show's auspicious return is very much a welcome occasion. Now back in Southern California for its flashy, beautifully remounted West Coast regional premiere for 3-D Theatricals, KINKY BOOTS---now continuing performances through March 1, 2020 at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts---is just as fun and fabulous as ever.
It helps that this entertaining new production---directed by Tony nominated actor John Tartaglia (AVENUE Q and SHREK)---is staged essentially as a close reproduction of the original Broadway and touring productions, proving the (paraphrased) adage that something that isn't broken doesn't need a lot of fixing.
And much like most 3-D Theatricals' shows, this dazzling, high-energy local revival is literally a Broadway-caliber production, since it uses the actual Broadway sets originally designed by David Rockwell and the original, gorgeous costumes designed by Gregg Barnes, giving the show some built-in theatrical street cred, at least in surface production values. Luckily all of its admirable qualities generously extend to every facet of the production, from Jean-Yves Tessier's vibrant lighting designs and the new choreography by Linda Love Simmons (with stylistic nods to the original choreography by directorJerry Mitchell), to the rousing musical sounds from the orchestra under the baton and keyboards of musical director Benet Braun paired wonderfully with the excellent performances provided by its terrific cast.
Still at the heart of KINKY BOOTS is its engagingly endearing and ultimately triumphant (fact-based) story that follows the unlikely partnership and eventual friendship that blossoms between straight-laced Charlie Price---played with adorkable yet dashing charm by Lukas Poost---and fabulous gender non-conforming drag queen Lola---played with commanding yet vulnerable ferocity by Cornelius Jones Jr. As their professional partnership begins to take shape, they discover that they respectively share a history of growing up in---and longing to escape from---small towns that stifled their true identities. They also bond over the realization that they both have less than perfect relationships with their demanding fathers.
Charlie---who dreams of escaping small town life in Northampton to live a posh-er life away in London with posh girlfriend Nicola (Dayna Sauble)---is suddenly thrust to go back home to be the new owner and leader of Price & Son's, the ailing shoe factory owned by their family after the sudden passing of his father (Guy Noland). He postpones his new life and new career in London to care for the dying business. Despite the longstanding tradition of quality and craftsmanship of its men's shoes that continues to be churned out by its hardworking staff whom he's known for most of his life, there's little profit to be gained from the factory's outdated enterprise and antiquated products. Realizing that its struggles are too extensive to reverse, Charlie is forced to start enacting layoffs.
But in an unpredicted twist of fate, he has a violent meet-not-cute with drag performer Lola (aka Simon) while Charlie attempts to "save" her from some thugs outside of a club, mistaking her as a damsel in distress. Well, the damsel, it turns out, is quite capable of defending herself, thank you very much. Unfortunately, in the process, Charlie inadvertently gets struck by Lola's high stiletto boots which is destroyed during the scuffle.
When Charlie finally gains consciousness, he becomes mesmerized by the openly divalicious talents of Lola and her colorfully frocked "Angels"---her heavenly, aggressively fierce army of back-up drag glamazons on stage. Lola shows Charlie her now broken boots that she describes as "expensive, but cheaply made"---a statement that would later become the trigger of a brilliant business idea. In the interim, Charlie offers to repair the boots---after all, he would know how!
"I'd give my left tit for a pair of shoes that could stand up to me!" exclaims Lola. Challenge (soon) accepted!
Back at the nearly shuttered shoe factory, Charlie reluctantly hands out pink slips to the employees, including boy-crazy employee Lauren (awesome scene-stealer Emily Goglia), who, for her part, offers an inspired suggestion to her longtime unrequited crush Charlie: why not save the company---and its loyal, soon-to-be-unemployed workforce---by having the factory pivot to make a product that serves an under-served market instead of just churning out the same boring footwear no one is buying?
Wait! Why not design shoes gorgeous enough for a woman, but built sturdy enough to hold the weight of a man who wears such feminine footwear?!
After some convincing---and with Lola's help in design---Charlie goes forward with the risky but exciting new product venture, with hopes to showcase the sexy new line for fashionistas and store buyers in Milan. Will it succeed? Or will it be a huge disaster for all?
Shown as a beautiful, albeit highly stylized lesson in accepting every individual's differences that may even reveal surprisingly many commonalities, KINKY BOOTS explodes with equal amounts of sass and heart, all while pushing forward a pro-acceptance narrative told with humor and many tugs on our heart strings. Though Fierstein's book and Lauper's songs are reliable for delivering sharp wit with light humor or caffeinated musicality, they also distribute sizable moments of emotionally powerful scenes to emerge every so often.
Another theme that emerges involves the idea of making our parents---particularly our fathers---to be proud of us... a longing, deeply-seared need that stretches even to adulthood. It's a commonality the two small-town boys Charlie and Simon (aka Lola) are surprised to discover in one another beautifully rendered via a tender, tearjerker of a song "I'm Not My Father's Son," one of many of the show's musical highlights.
Lauper's deserved Tony for her Broadway creative debut gave us so many impressive songs in the show, from the diva ballad "Hold Me In Your Heart," the belt-tastic 11 o'clock number "Soul of a Man," to the infectiously celebratory "Everybody Say Yeah," and, of course, the anthemic finalé of "Raise You Up/Just Be."
For 3-D Theatricals' first production of KINKY BOOTS, the show absolutely looks and sounds as great as you would expect with a production utilizing the original sets and show pieces (certain aspects were reconfigured slightly different, but the spirit of the original staging certainly lingers). Despite a smattering of opening night audio hiccups, a few staging kinks, and some confused marks (that come off endearing rather than peculiar), the show on the whole succeeds in retaining its predesigned joy.
Of course, the production wouldn't be as enjoyable if not for its impressive cast, led by Poost, whose superior vocal talent pairs well with his noticeable acting chops (On a side note, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Poost way back when the national tour of SHREK came to Orange County many years ago, and am impressed at seeing him mature so well in this role). The fabulous and remarkable Jones Jr. is just perfect as Lola/Simon, whose sass and vivaciousness provides exquisite contrast to the moments that required his character to evoke vulnerability and disappointment and, yes, even fear. And, yes, that voice he has is a gift.
When paired together, the two are electric, while also giving us really outstanding fresh takes on their respective roles. Their harmonies on "I'm Not My Father's Son" (which had me in tears) is the best I've heard that song performed since seeing the original Broadway production in New York back in 2013.
By the way, the role of Lola/Simon was originally scheduled to feature Todrick Hall (who also previously played the role on Broadway), but had to withdraw from this production due to scheduling conflicts.
Goglia is a terrific comic with perfect timing and range with a superb singing voice, too. Other standouts include Jeff Skowron as eldest factory worker George (who, many will probably suspect might be a character that would blend well with the Angels), Javier Garcia as factory bully/typical "no homo" hetero Don, and Candi Milo who brief but memorable turn as the Milan Stage Manager is a laugh riot. Shoutouts to Matthew Carl Garcia and Myles A. Carr for their respective roles as Young Charlie and Young Simon and the remainder of the ensemble who weave in and out of scenes providing great support and vocal harmony while appearing as though they are just having the most wonderful time (many also get their own standout moments sprinkled throughout the show).
And, of course, how could we possibly neglect the lovely and statuesque Angels---performed by Eric Stanton Betts, Jake Dupree, Callum Gugger, Gerry Kenneth, Christopher Mosley, and Rodrigo Varandas---who individually and collectively make flexibility and fierceness a thing to worship and envy at the same time.
To no one's surprise, the ending of the show felt like a celebratory party concert (complete with, spoiler alert, confetti explosion) as both audience and cast are engulfed in complete, self-accepting bliss punctuated with a danceable groove carrying a positive message.
Hilariously cheeky as it is touching---KINKY BOOTS proves that a progressive, open-mindedly themed show can be a universally relatable crowd-pleaser, thanks to its inspired combination of story, music, and acting performances that make it such a special little show. The show features extremely likable characters that everyone can grow to care for and want to root for, even if they don't particularly align with their ideology or lifestyle.
3-D Theatricals truly has another winner in its hands with their take on this brilliant, inclusive and utterly joyful new production.
Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ.
Production Photographs by © Caught in the Moment Photography, courtesy of 3-D Theatricals.
See Opening Night photos HERE.
Performances of 3-D Theatricals' KINKY BOOTS continue at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts through March 1, 2020. Shows are scheduled Thursdays - Saturdays at 8 pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. The Cerritos Center is located at 18000 Park Plaza Drive, Cerritos, CA. Free parking available.