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Review: Pittsburgh CLO's KINKY BOOTS Makes Everybody Say 'Yeah!' at Benedum Center

Review: Pittsburgh CLO's KINKY BOOTS Makes Everybody Say 'Yeah!' at Benedum Center

Kinky Boots has enough heart in its heels to fill a whole season, let alone a one-week run.

It's amazing how fast time flies in terms of sociopolitical discourse. When the musical Kinky Boots hit Broadway in 2012, it was a huge step forward in representation of gender and sexual fluidity and drag culture. Ten years later, an audience that is probably more "mildly politically correct" than "aggressively woke" still laughed only nervously at a few of the lines, because there was a sense of "can you still... SAY that?" Luckily, this is a show written by Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein, not J. K. Rowling or Dave Chappelle; their heart is in the right place, even if that right place was ten years ago.

In a story based on the British film dramedy of the same name, we follow reluctant factory owner Charlie Price (Brian Sears) as he takes over his late father's shoe manufacturing operation. The business isn't doing well as it is, and he's on the verge of shutting it down- and laying off his childhood friends in the process- until he forges an unexpected partnership with flamboyant and ambitious drag queen Lola (Darius Harper). The two of them pivot the factory from making sensible work shoes to making "kinky boots" built and fortified for even the biggest drag queen to wear without breaking the heel. Can they save the factory and Charlie's friends? Will everyone learn about love and acceptance along the way? Will the toughest and butchest of the male characters show up rocking high heels for the grand finale? It's a musical comedy- what do YOU think?

Brian Sears has a strong, powerful and exciting voice, which contrasts nicely with the character Charlie's weak, waffling personality. This feels like the story of two little boys slightly stunted in emotional development as kids, finally having to grow up and self-actualize; Sears is wayward and goofy and a little lost until the very end, when he grows some backbone and takes control of his life. Part of this control is forming strong and sensible emotional bonds with the people around him, and getting over his various phobias to embrace a platonic but openly loving relationship with Lola.

The character of Lola contains multitudes: she (sometimes he, when in "male drag" as Simon, her birth name and gender) pointedly skirts the question of whether she is trans or just a drag queen, and moves fluidly between gender presentations of masculininty, femininity and (in act 2) full androgyny. At the same time, while the show hints repeatedly that Lola May be falling in love with Charlie, it also drops the humorous bombshell in Act 2 that, however Lola identifies, she may flirt with men but is definitely into the company of women. A pansexual, gender-fluid emotionally and romantically complex Black protagonist dancing in heels? Somewhere, Jonathan Larson is kicking himself that he didn't make Angel this well-realized of a character. And Darius Harper walks away with the show, inhabiting Lola like a house afire and giving her (him? them? Just like RENT, Kinky Boots throws gendered signifiers around wildly for comedic and dramatic effect without consistency) both a rich and emotional inner life, and a flamboyant, man-eating high-camp stage affect. In the drag pantheon, Lola must be the most prestigious drag role in the current oeuvre minus maybe Hedwig; the rather silly role of Frank N. Furter may well be below an artist of Harper's caliber, but what I wouldn't give to see him sing "I'm Going Home."

The supporting cast is full of immensely charming performers, many of them Pittsburgh regulars: Wali Jamal, our local expert in the works of August Wilson, as the Mr. Smee-like factory assistant George; Saige Smith as quirky factory girl Pat; David Aron Damane as surly bloke and amateur boxer Don, and especially Savannah Lee Birdsong as lifelong loser in love Lauren. Birdsong takes on one of the most immediately-ubiquitous audition and cabaret numbers in theatre, "The History of Wrong Guys," and absolutely sells the awkwardness, lust, insecurity and stir-craziness of the number. She'll have you saying "Annaleigh who?"

As for the material itself, Cyndi Lauper's score is tuneful but her lyrics aren't as clever as many of the songs she's professionally associated with. When the characters just get to belt and emote, the score and the cast shine- otherwise, it's the book scenes that give the show its heart, a rare reversal of the usual musical formula. Luckily, Kinky Boots has enough heart in its heels to fill a whole season, let alone a one-week run.




From This Author - Greg Kerestan

A long-time BWW regular, Greg Kerestan is proud to join the staff of his favorite website. Greg is a graduate of Duquesne University and Seton Hill University, where he studied both theatre and English.... (read more about this author)


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