BWW Review: The Phoenix Theatre Company Presents KINKY BOOTS ~ It's Dazzling!
As if a comet had penetrated the walls of the Mainstage at The Phoenix Theatre Company on the evening of August 30th 2019, something more than an exhilarating and elevating production of KINKY BOOTS, the Cyndi Lauper/Harvey Fierstein hit, was afoot.
The atmosphere radiated with a special blend of energy, enthusiasm, and inspiration.
There was Producing Artistic Director Michael Barnard who kvelled as he recalled for the Opening Night audience the historic moments leading to the Company's celebration of its Centennial this Season and the luminaries who, over the decades, trod its boards as they moved on to greater heights.
Then, there's the excellence and quality of collaboration that has exemplified the Company's work and earned it its stellar reputation. This night, it was Pasha Yamotahari who turned in a masterful achievement of direction, reflecting a keen eye and instinct for staging moments that resonate with emotion and vitality. His work is enhanced by a venue whose intimacy and acoustics better serve a show of this sort than others in which it has been produced.
And then, there are the other ingredients of collaboration that complete Yamotahari's recipe for a must-see production: the rich sounds of Alan Ruch's orchestra, James Kinney's vibrant choreography, Daniel Davisson's subtle lighting effects, and Cari Smith's outrageously glorious costumes (bravissimo to the boots!). Robert Kovach's set design of the Northampton shoe factory is a work of art and balance. Diane Senffner provides the essential element of dialect coaching that has afforded each voice its requisite authenticity.
There's another important reason why this performance is so special ~ the very clear evidence that this artistic community merits broader attention and respect for the bevy of rich and diverse talents that comprise and energize theatre in the Valley of the Sun. Gathered among this ensemble are local performing artists (for example, Chanel Bragg, Cassie Chilton, Savannah Alfred, Shani Barrett, Alyssa Chiarello, Lucas Coatney, Eric Zaklukiewicz) who have plied their trade here with dedication and passion ~ and, in this show, they demonstrate just how great they are...and how Phoenix area theatre has arrived!
The icing on this cake of praise belongs to the leads.
When I first saw Darius Harper, he was featured as one of the glam sextet of Angels in the 2014 national tour of KINKY BOOTS. Since then, his huge strides have carried him to his current bravura performance as Lola, the sensuous, flashy, and sassy drag queen who is recruited by Charlie Price, the heir to a failing shoe factory, to design a boot that will appeal to an underserved niche market...and, hence, save the business. As Harper delivers a breathtaking and scintillating portrayal of Lola, his representation of his not-so-sure-footed self, Simon, brims with sensitivity and pathos. The overarching point being, Harper is sensational!
Lola's Angels ~ Brant Michaels, Alex Nordin, DJ Petrosino, Vinnie Smith, Philip Stock, and Shaun-Avery Willliams ~ are fantastic, strutting and belting out their numbers with flash, panache, and poise.
Andrew Poston is excellent as Charlie, caught between his commitment to preserve his father's legacy and the high expectations of his fiancée Nicola (Jessie Jo Pauley). As he assumes the responsibility of saving Price & Son from insolvency, he also discovers the challenges of conventional workplace attitudes, biases, and resistances to change. His introduction of Lola/Simon unleashes the taunts of self-fashioned "real men" like Don the factory worker (played with a perfect blend of bravado and vulnerability by Joseph Cavazos).
Kaitlyn Russell shines as Lauren the loyal working girl who falls for Charlie. She had me and the audience in her kittenish, pouting rendition of The History of Wrong Guys.
As solid and robust as the performances are, it is the conscience and soul of Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper that permeates the show ~ the power of the words, the splendor of the music. In telling a story that brings such unlikely partners as Lola and Charlie together ~ each a son bearing the burden of parental expectations and fighting to realize their true selves ~ they give a righteous kick to the pants of intolerance and stereotyping and proclaim the paramount importance of self-acceptance, mutual respect, and diversity.
This show is, in all respects, DAZZLING! A must-see!
The Phoenix Theatre Company's production of KINKY BOOTS runs through October 13th in the Mainstage Theatre.
Photo credit to Reg Madison Photography
The Phoenix Theatre Company ~ www.phoenixtheatre.com ~ 602-254-2151 ~ 1825 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix, AZ