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BWW Review: KINKY BOOTS Opens at DPAC

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In the spectacular closing number of "Kinky Boots," whose national tour is playing at Durham Performing Arts Center, the cast gives the audience the "Price and Simon secret to success." It's a six-step program that succinctly and powerfully sums up the musical.

Step One: Pursue the Truth

The director of "Kinky Boots" worked hard to make sure everything was authentic, from the shoe factory equipment to the accents. Actors developed on their accents by working with dialect coaches and watching video clips. Perhaps most importantly, though, the emotions and personalities of the characters rang true. In a show that includes everyone from small-town factory workers to real estate developers to drag queens, this authenticity could make or break a performance - and it definitely made it.

(Speaking of the shoe factory equipment, the cast actually dances on conveyer belts. It's brilliant and made me think of the opening scene in "The Music Man," with its unique use of the set to create entertaining choreography.)

Step Two: Learn Something New

How many people in the enormous DPAC audience had never seen drag queens before? How many had negative associations with LGBTQ people? In a state conflicted about gay rights and bathroom policy, it's likely there was a good number. "Kinky Boots" is about acceptance (more on that in Step Three), and it requires the audience to learn about people who are different than themselves in an entertaining and joyful way. I would be shocked if there weren't people in the audience thinking, "You know what? Drag queens are just like anybody else - but more fun."

J. Harrison Ghee as Lola
(photo provided by DPAC)

Step Three: Accept Yourself, and You'll Accept Others, Too

In Act II, Lola challenges Don (a "tough guy" worker who is obviously threatened by Lola) to a bet to see who is more of a "man": They each write down what they think makes someone a man, and the other person has to do that thing. Don agrees. He challenges Lola to a boxing match. Lola, who was professionally trained by her boxer father, lets him win. He asks her why, and she says she didn't want to embarrass him in front of his friends. Then she gives him his challenge: "Accept someone for who they really are."

Soon after, Charlie and Lola get into an argument, and Charlie makes some comments that are less than accepting. The argument is followed by a song Charlie sings, alone on stage, that's all about who he is, and we come to realize that only when he accepts himself does he truly accept Lola. This is one of the themes to ponder on your way home: How can you accept someone else if you don't accept yourself?

(Oh, and Don clearly takes Lola's lesson to heart: He emerges with the rest of the cast in the closing number wearing the eponymous Kinky Boots.)

Step Four: Let Love Shine

"Kinky Boots" shines (the musical, not the boots themselves - although they are pretty dazzling). The music makes you want to get up and dance, the acting is both touching and hilarious, and the costumes are alternately beautifully realistic or stunningly outlandish. What shines most, though, is the love the characters have for each other and the love the audience takes away for their fellow human beings. It's an especially important message for an election year.

Step Five: Let Pride Be Your Guide

The word "pride" has a lot of connotations, from "pride goes before a fall" to "gay pride." Step Five refers to the kind of pride where you not only accept yourself, but you celebrate yourself - kinks and all. Over the course of the musical, Charlie (played by powerful singer Adam Kaplan) transforms from being a boy who just wants to leave his town and his family's company to someone who is proud of his family's legacy and of how he's changed it. Charlie's journey is moving and one we can all relate to.

Then there's Lola, played by J. Harrison Ghee. From the beginning, she embraces herself outwardly, loud, flamboyant, and very tall in those heels. But we see a transformation when she comes to the factory dressed in men's clothes and introduces herself as Simon. Simon opens up to Charlie about growing up with a father who didn't understand him and disowned him when he showed up for a boxing match in a dress. In a beautiful duet called "Not My Father's Son," Lola says, "Look at me, powerless and holding my breath, trying hard to repress what scared him to death." It's a heartbreaking lyric, but Lola ultimately accepts her whole self, even performing in drag at the retirement home where her father works.Caption

Adam Kaplan)" height="167" src="https://cloudimages.broadwayworld.com/upload11/1422094/files/0515_KINKY_BOOTS_TOUR.jpg" width="251" />
Lauren (Tiffany Egen) and Charlie (Adam Kaplan)
(Photo provided by DPAC)

And Lauren. Oh, Lauren. Awkward, funny and supportive, Lauren is the one who encourages Charlie to change Price & Son's target audience (from "a range of shoes for men" to "a range of shoes for a range of men," as Charlie explains later). She realizes she has feelings for him when he gives her a promotion, and is adorably frightened and excited by it ("The History of Wrong Guys"). Tiffany Egen was right when she told me "every girl can relate" to her character.

Step Six: You Change the World When You Change Your Mind

Step Six: We're ready. As audience members, "Kinky Boots" changed our minds, whether by altering an opinion or making us understand or feel something deeper than we did before. Something really special happens when a mind is changed; in this case, it shows the power of musical theater. When it's done right, simply watching a performance can change the way you see the world. And making just one person better (and trust me when I say that "Kinky Boots" has made many more than one person better), it changes the world.


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From This Author Taryn Oesch

Taryn is a copyeditor and freelance writer in Raleigh, where she is a behind-the-scenes member of the theatre community. Her favorite plays/musicals are Next to (read more...)