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Review: Bold, Big-Hearted Celebration of Friendship: MSMT's KINKY BOOTS

MSMT's Production Pulls Out All the Stops

Review: Bold, Big-Hearted Celebration of Friendship: MSMT's KINKY BOOTS

With its bold, brilliant, sassy, urbanely funny, and warmly heartfelt production of KINKY BOOTS, Maine State Music Theatre has chosen the perfect vehicle to close its main stage season. The irresistible musical by Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper is given a spectacular, big-hearted production that pulls out all the stops and showcases MSMT at its Broadway best.

The touching tale, based on a true story, of the unlikely friendship between an English shoe manufacturer and a drag queen who helps him save not only his factory, but also his sense of purpose and self-esteem is an appealing one. At the center are two outsiders, each inhabiting vastly different worlds, who slowly learn to accept and appreciate each other for who they really are. And when they do, they find they can, indeed, change the world.

Marc Robin directs, and, as in everything this theatrical genius creates, he goes straight to the heart of the piece, probing the vulnerabilities of the characters and finding their inner strengths. Compassionate, kind, inspirational in his vision, Robin paints a very human story filled with losses and triumphs, a world in which different is beautiful and special and each character has a unique backstory. His staging is cinematic, moving quickly and seamlessly among the different locales, layering scenes on top of each other and negotiating the contrasts of mood to best effect.

Choreographer Kenny Ingram brings the contemporary Lauper score to life with dances that sparkle and invigorate. His choreography for Lola is especially vibrant, and there is more of it than in many other productions - stunningly executed by Stephane Duret. Memorable moments include Lola's "What A Woman Wants," the staging of the boxing scene, and each of the act's closing sequences which have so much energy and color that the audience has no need of high-tech devices such as the Broadway conveyor belt number.

Review: Bold, Big-Hearted Celebration of Friendship: MSMT's KINKY BOOTS Music Director Ben McNaboe demonstrates a special affinity for this harmonically fascinating score, emphasizing its energy, its infectious rhythms, and overall joyfulness. He leads the other seven fine musicians with animated confidence to deliver an exhilarating performance.

The visual production is a feast for the eyes. Robert Andrew Kovach's complex scenery has a cinematic look and feel, as well. It captures the red brick milieu of the British factory town, using multiple levels, stairs, and moving units - both large and small - that rapidly shift the set from factory interior and exterior to London or Milan. Bathed in Paul Black's subtly tactile lighting, the stage pictures suggest lovely watercolors - edges soft-tinged in a slight haze and saturated in shifting hues from blues, greens, pinks, terra cottas and ochres.

Kathleen Payton Brown coordinates the costumes, designed by Anna Grywalski. These range from the very casual attire of the factory workers to the glitzy outfits that Lola and her Angels adopt. Grywalski has a ball with Lola and her Angel's outfits, culminating in the final runway number where each appears in a bold, primary-colored, flamboyantly sculpted costume. Always skillful in his wig designs, Kevin S. Foster II's contributions to this show take on some special significance, especially in transforming Lola and the Angels into attractive queens.

Shannon Slaton manages the soundscape effectively, giving the big numbers an extra dose of pizzazz. Amy M. Bertacini ably assumes the role of Production Stage Manager.

The chemistry and camaraderie among the twenty-four-person cast is palpable. Matt Farcher proves to be a loveable, if lost, Charlie Price, who radiates sweet vulnerability, gentle awkwardness, disarming humor, and moments of riveting emotional intensity. He is a powerful vocalist, making a big impression in all his numbers, especially in "Step One" and "The Soul of a Man." Stephane Duret delivers a finely nuanced portrait of Lola/Simon - a person serenely at home in her own skin and proudly determined to be herself. Duret captures the resolute, quirky strength, the sardonic wit, and the inner kindness and compassion of the character in a very moving way. He is a consummate dancer who is sultry, lithe, and athletic all at once, making you believe he is both a trained boxer and a drag queen entertainer, a virtuoso performer in the big numbers such as "Sex Is in the Heel," and a moving soloist in the introspective ones such as "Hold Me in Your Heart." Farcher and Duret share a triumphant moment in the lovely, poignant duet, "Not My Father's Son."

Liz Shivener makes Lauren a sweet, tough, genuine presence, and she invests "The History Of Wrong Guys" with a gutsy passion. One is rooting for her, almost from the start, and her authenticity makes a perfect foil for Nicola, played with a cool urbanity by Taylor Quick.

Nathaniel Hackmann gives Don, Lola's potential nemesis, a more shaded portrayal than one sometimes sees; he is younger, truly grappling with the situations with which he is confronted, and truly changed by what he encounters. A gifted singer, he gets to demonstrate his powerful, richly colored voice in a few special moments, among them the finale.

Blake Hammond makes George a wise, warm, paternal presence, reserved, loyal, yet capable of some endearing surprises, while Jay Poff's brief appearance as Charlie's actual father effectively establishes the backstory. Young Aidan Walton and Milo Livingston make delightful debuts as Young Charlie and Young Simon/Lola respectively.

Review: Bold, Big-Hearted Celebration of Friendship: MSMT's KINKY BOOTS In featured roles and ensemble roles Ron King is a smooth-talking, opportunistic Richard Bailey; Shane Donovan has a lively rock moment as Harry in "You Take What You Got"; Abby C. Smith as Pat and Amber Carson as Trish add humor and spark to the ladies' factory ensemble.

Lola's Angels (Joshua Bellamy, Jonathan Bryant (also Dance Captain), Donovan Hoffer, Jalen Michael Jones, Devin Price, and Chad Takeda) prove to be a stunning sextet of triple threats - dazzling dancers, charming vocalists, and exceptional actors. Their big performance numbers are the soul and color of the piece, and their participation in the rousing finale "Raise You Up/Just Be" is pure joy. Monica Blume, Diego Cortes, and Mikayla Jane round out the ensemble with Brooke Taylor Cottrell and Preston Karp as the invaluable Swings.

By the time this awe-inspiring cast has guided the audience on a journey of laughter, tears, and the sheer joy of watching humanity come together in friendship and understanding, the entire house is on its feet cheering "Raise You Up" and "Just Be."

And what better message than Lola's challenge to Don - and, indeed, to us all? "Accept someone for who they are" - Lola's sage and compassionate advice resonates throughout the evening and long after, as MSMT's KINKY BOOTS opens its arms and welcomes artists and audience into its collective embrace.

Capping off MSMT's glorious Revival Season, KINKY BOOTS not only celebrates the undiminished artistic excellence for which the company is known, but it also gives joyful notice that live theatre IS BACK, that it inspires audiences to think and to care, and that it speaks to the world we all inhabit, affirming that the arts are essential and nourishing elements of community well-being.

Photos courtesy of MSMT, Jared Morneau, photographer

KINKY BOOTS runs at MSMT's Pickard Theater on the campus of Bowdoin College, 1 Bath Road, Brunswick, ME from August 10-27, 2022 www.msmt.org 207-725-8769

Regional Awards


From This Author - Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold

Born and raised in the metropolitan New York area, Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold took her degrees at Sarah Lawrence College and Fairleigh Dickinson University. She began her career as a teacher... (read more about this author)


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