BWW Review: Atlantis Has Scored Yet Another Triumph in KINKY BOOTS
Manila, Philippines--The Cyndi Lauper-Harvey Fierstein award-winning musical "Kinky Boots" has finally strutted into Manila, and if the spontaneous standing ovations and full houses since opening night are any indication, Lola, the indomitable drag queen at the center of the show, could be right--"I came for one thing only--adulation!"
However, given the creative and technical demands of the musical, Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group (ATEG) had huge boots to fill. Have the men from Atlantis, headed by director Bobby Garcia, successfully staged this huge-hearted hit, which boasts a Tony, Grammy, and Olivier under its sequined belt?
Changing the World
The central focus of the story is the uncanny friendship between two unlikely heroes, Charlie Price, a reluctant shoe factory heir, and Lola, a drag queen, whose search for the perfect boots for male entertainers could be their own saving grace. Together, the two are drawn to each other by a common desire for their own identity under the shade of their repressive fathers.
Fierstein's book may feature a story from Northampton, England a long time ago, but its message of love and acceptance still rings true in today's world where gender equality and discrimination are the contentious dins of social media debates.
The musical's taglines "Just be who you wanna be," and "You change the world when you change your mind" will soon be a cliché, but the message for now still sounds fresh, to which the show owes its substance and relevance.
"Kinky Boots" is Lauper's first foray into Broadway as a composer-lyricist, for which she won a Tony (Best Score). While it is an established fact that the artist is a respected singer-songwriter (Lauper is a Writers Hall of Fame and Hollywood Walk of Fame inductee), her mettle as a Broadway composer was met with apprehension from the artist herself. She made up for this by listening again to musical cast recordings that she grew up with, and by allowing herself to be constantly towed by Fierstein into this uncharted creative territory. It helped that Fierstein set no rules, and Lauper happily dived in.
Lauper's songs are character-driven. She labored to give each character a genre based on the Broadway originators' vocal strengths. She left no heel unturned in giving Billy Porter (Lola), Stark Sands (Charlie Price), and Annaleigh Ashford (Lauren) the individual voices they so deserved. That is one big boot for Nyoy Volante (Lola), Laurence Mossman (Charlie), and Yanah Laurel (Lauren) to fill, to whom Lauper did not originally intend the songs.
Volante, Mossman and Laurel
Nyoy Volante and Laurence Mossman, comparatively, and quite understandably, do not possess the vocal strengths of Porter and Sands. Volante's strength is in his perfect falsetto, while Mossman banks on his classical music training. And Volante is a straight man. Is that a problem?
No. Volante as Lola skillfully maneuvers powerhouse ballads (Not My Father's Son, Hold Me in Your Arms) and upbeat ditties (Land of Lola, Sex is in the Heel) with the class and sass of a true drag queen. Nary a falsetto line, he sashays the role in full-voiced glory, filling up the theatre like he owns it, taking the audience for a nonstop rollick of laugh-out-loud moments and high-kicking drama. Volante must have the "strength of Sparta and the patience of Job" to wear those deadly boots without actually tearing a muscle or two!
Interestingly, Volante's put-on character lisp destroys whatever hint of familiarity we have of his celebrity that has not been obliterated by makeup and fabulous dresses. He has completely dissolved into the skin, wig, and shoes of Lola. Simply put, Volante is Lola.
No doubt about it, Mossman, on the other hand, is a star to watch for. First seen in "Fun Home," his turn at stardom is tested by his role as Charlie Price--his second with Atlantis, and the biggest so far.
Mossman possesses a natural gift for acting. His portrayal of Charlie shows the complexities of a man--in love, determined, and reluctant--who's on the verge of transformation from a young lover boy to a shoe factory manager. However, the vocal requirement of the role seems too big for Mossman to fill. He can actually sing, but those high notes, although sung passably, are somewhat strained, thus rendering his singing a bit contrived. His best moments come in Step One and Soul of a Man.
Laurel is a scene stealer, as she has always been. Her role may not be as big as Volante's and Mossman's, but she comes across engaging and memorable. Her Lauren may be goofy, but there is such sexiness in her that will surely erase any audience cynicism if Price actually falls for him.
A genuine star patiently waiting for her turn, Laurel could be the next big and important star in Philippine theater. She has only one song to boot (The History of Wrong Guys), and a very difficult mic to deal with, but she delivers so believably despite the odds. In turn, she actually comes across even more convincing. Her Lauren will leave you wanting for more.
Little Big Surprises
The musical's major stars may be expectedly impressive, but the supporting cast pulls off little surprises, too.
There is nothing that theater veteran Jamie Wilson cannot do, including accents. Whether it is an Italian mobster or a Northampton bully he takes on, his accent will always speak expertise. His Don may not be as big as Mossman's, but Wilson takes no prisoners in making his a significant character in the narrative.
Also worth mentioning are "Miss Saigon" alumna Tricia Canilao, who delivers a straightforward Nicola, and Steven Conde, whose George is a delight to behold.
The biggest surprise of the night, besides Volante, are "Angels" Gerhard Krysstopher, Mark Pineda, Ritz Beltran, Jorge Marvin Jahnke, Michael Jahnke, and Jazztin Cacayan, whose heel-raising numbers are met with a thunderous reception from the audience.
If "Miss Saigon" has the helicopter, Kinky Boots' pride is the conveyor--a platform for Cecile Martinez's original choreography, which requires the agility of the two lead stars (Everybody Say Yeah!). However, due to space constraint, Garcia and Martinez opt for dressed-down, bare essentials. The result of this much-awaited number is less impressive, compared to the original Broadway production, but commendable. The rest of the choreography is on point.
Faust Peneyra (set design) stays true to the original design sans complications, for obvious reasons stated earlier. The sets, typical of his other designs, allow for human and prop traffic without the hitch, transporting the audience from the shoe factory to Lola's land in smooth segues. However, the Milan ramp needs to be ramped up: it lacks the glitz and glamor that Charlie has spoken so strongly of.
Garcia and his team have scored yet another triumph in this Broadway import. A must-see for those who have and "who have yet to make up their minds," you will surely find yourself dancing and celebrating with the cast at the end of the show.
"Kinky Boots" plays Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, 4th Floor, RCBC Plaza, Ayala Ave., cor. Gil Puyat Ave. Makati City, now through Sunday, July 23. For tickets, visit TicketWorld.com.ph.
Photos: Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group