BWW Review: KINKY BOOTS at Straz Center Tampa
The award-winning Broadway musical Kinky Boots boasts music and lyrics pairing the talents of Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein and is the winner of six 2013 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Kinky Boots is based on the 2005 British film of the same name and obtained its inspiration from the true story of English shoe manufacturer Steve Pateman. Pateman found himself desperately trying to save his family's declining shoe factory. Soon his designs morph from standard men's footwear into a more fetish-oriented style, branded Divine Footwear.
You know it's going to be a provocative show when the first line delivered is, " Ladies, Gentlemen, and all those who have yet to decide"!
Taking the flair of theatrical license, the musical replicates the storyline of Pateman and introduces us to Charlie Price (Connor Allston) and the fictitious Price & Sons shoe factory based in Northampton, England. Charlie is torn between staying in mundane Northampton and helping his father Mr. Price (Geoff Davin) manage their failing factory or moving to trendy London to pursue a career in real estate along with his ever-nagging, upwardly mobile girlfriend Nicola (Ashley North). His father was counting on him managing the factory but offers his blessings when Charlie decides to make the move. Soon after he moves Charlie receives the news of his father's death. Assuming the responsibility of his inheritance and the future of the workers he has known all of his life, he returns to Northampton and contemplates closing the factory.
A brief encounter with drag queen Lola (Kenneth Mosley) motivates Charlie to think outside the shoe to create sturdy but glamorous boots for a whole new market of clients. Charlie asks Lola to partner with him to save the factory by preparing new designs for a crucial fashion show in Milan. Let the good times roll when Lola and her drag dancers, the Angels, show up at the factory and clash with the rather staunch and conservative factory workers. Act l unfolds a big number for Lola in the touching, "Not My Father's Son". Mr. Mosley's heartfelt rendition tugged on our heartstrings.
The factory workers are not happy about the proposition of their new product line and Don (James Fairchild), the company's burley foreman especially makes Lola feel unwelcomed. Lola challenges him by engaging the help of the ladies in the factory to prove that she is closer to a woman's ideal man than Don. Lola further challenges Don to a bet to see who is the better "man", by agreeing to do one thing that Don requests if Don will do one thing that Lola requests. Don's challenge is for Lola to box with him. Little did he know Lola is a trained boxer. During the fight song, In This Corner, we are treated to a cleverly choreographed slow motion fight scene. In the end Lola lets Don win. When Don privately asks Lola why she let him win, she replies she didn't want to humiliate Don in front of his coworkers. She then challenges him to accept someone for who they are. We start to see friendships like this grow throughout the factory. Even shop worker Lauren (Karis Gallant) comes to terms with her crush on Charlie via her song "The History of Wrong Guys". In Charlie's big number, "Soul of a Man", Allston delivers a moving performance. I must make mention on how well the performers handled the very intricate moving conveyor-belt choreography which is one of the highlights of the show. This is an opportunity for so much to go wrong with all of its moving sequences and cast migrations that change directions. It's delightful to watch. Things turn out for the best in the end with Charlie, Lola and the Angels presenting a runway fanfare of their new line that became a hit at the Milan show. Friendships are made, the factory is saved and some emotional loose ends are tied up.
The cast as a whole was in sync with each other and presented as a close knit collaborative. Allston projected Charlie's frustrations and passions well. Mosley as Lola thoughtfully switched from his male to female counterpart with brilliance and a vocal dexterity to capture your attention. Fairchild as Don the gruff factory foreman absolutely brought the house down when he donned a pair of red kinky boots. Ms. Gallant offers a great sense of comedic antics and interweaves clever humor into the plot. The Angel dancers Jordan Archibald, Derek Brazeau, Ryan Michael James, Andrew Norlan, Jacob Paulson, Ernest Terrelle Williams were stunning. They came prepared to show off their dance moves, grace and spunk and outshined in every number. The orchestra under Music Director/Keys Kevin Casey were up to the task of producing mellow undertones as well as big brilliant orchestrations that propelled and complemented the production.
Kinky Boots challenges all of us to accept each other for who we are. It also stretches us to find our niche and think outside the box. This is a feel good spectacle of understanding and acceptance. It begins with a bang and ends on an even higher one.
Kinky Boots plays through May 19, 2019 at the Straz. For more information on the Straz Center for the Performing Arts visit www.strazcenter.org.
For more information on the Kinky Boots Tour visit www.KinkyBootsTheTour.com.