BWW Review: KINKY BOOTS Dazzles at The Muny
The most beautiful thing in the world is a shoe at The Muny this weekend and into next week, as Kinky Boots, based on a 2005 film of the same name, takes the stage in its extraordinary St. Louis premiere after its six-year run on Broadway. There, it won multiple Tony awards, with a book by Harvey Feirstein and music and score by Cyndi Lauper, direction and choreography by Jerry Mitchell (direction re-created for The Muny by DB Bonds and choreography by Rusty Mowery). With its many glitzy surprises and its variety of endearing and glamorous characters, this show will have you saying YEAH!
When Charlie (Graham Scott Fleming), who has recently moved to London with his ambitious fiancée Nicola (Caroline Bowman), inherits his recently deceased father's shoe factory in Northampton, he must return home and face the implications of a failing business. With over 600 pairs of shoes in the warehouse already that he can't sell, he's going to have to find a solution or be forced to cut back drastically on personnel, and it has been a long time coming. He may even have to shut the factory down and sell the building to real estate developers.
When Charlie defends a woman being mugged on a London street one night and gets punched, he awakens to discover that the woman is the Lola (J. Harrison Ghee), a fabulous (no, FABULOUS) drag queen. As Lola schools Charlie on the difference between a drag queen and a transvestite and then explains the difficulty in finding comfortable shoes that support her weight, a newly educated Charlie realizes that step one for saving the factory might just be making boots for men who dress like women! Alas, a beautiful friendship and business partnership develop, wherein Lola designs and Charlie manufactures. Unfortunately, Nicola isn't too thrilled with Charlie's return to Northampton, but Lauren (Taylor Louderman), a production line assistant at the shoe factory, sure is.
This entire company is strong, and the story unfolds flawlessly, delivering a message of acceptance amidst lots of uninhibited delight. I was cheerfully surprised at the warm reception from a Midwestern audience, who offered spontaneous outbursts of applause and enjoyed giggles at some of the show's most risqué lines.
Highlights of the show are definitely Ghee and the ensemble's spicy rendition of "Sex is in the Heel" followed shortly by Louderman's hilarious "The History of Wrong Guys," and Ghee again in a heart wrenching version of "Not My Father's Son." Ghee, who sure knows how to make an entrance and an exit, is freaking fabulous as Lola. And Missouri native Louderman is consistently 100% present with her character, bringing a simply stupendous performance as the awkward love interest. Bowman and Fleming also deliver solid performances, as do Paul Whitty as Don, the homophobic factory foreman, and John Scherer as factory manager George, who is a bit more open to having Lola around.
The choreography too is magnificent, particularly as the shoe factory conveyer belts are used to their full potential. The well-integrated digital scenes on screens that flank the stage are fabulous extensions of Michael Schweikardt's beautiful set, bringing dimension and adding depth. The use of colors in this show is commendable, with factory-inspired shades of blues and browns contrasting nicely in everything from costuming to lighting against the striking reds of sexy Lola and her angels.
There are surprise rainbows and glitzy showbiz-y illuminations and many fun surprises, including Gregg Barnes' sparkly, fun drag costumes that complement the tone of the show and the action onstage. And as always, the Muny Orchestra, under Ryan Fielding Garrett's direction, sounds spectacular in accompaniment, although they are now hidden from the audience's view.
This is a show for "ladies and gents and those who have yet to make up their minds." It is about discovering one's passion and accepting people for who they are. I dare say it will have everyone in its audience (yes, even that guy) coveting their own pair of kinky boots (a.k.a. two-and-a-half-feet of irresistible tubular sex) by show's end. Come celebrate Pride or just celebrate the day's end at Kinky Boots at The Muny through June 25. For more information and tickets: https://muny.org/kinky-boots/