Monday, July 13, 2015

It's Stiletto Quite a Kick: Back Where It Was First Fashioned, 'Kinky Boots' Retains Its Fine Footing -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Kinky Boots
Cadillac Palace, Chicago
Thru July 26

On October 2, 2012, I saw the first ever public performance of Kinky Boots, at Chicago's Bank of America Theatre prior to the show heading to Broadway.

In my review the next day--perhaps the first anyone wrote about the show, which wouldn't officially open for another few weeks--I pronounced that it was "already one of the best new musicals of the last few years" and predicted that Kinky Boots and star Billy Porter would win Tony Awards the next year.

That happened, with co-star Stark Sands also nominated (in the same category as Porter) and composer/lyricist Cyndi Lauper becoming the first woman to individually win the award for Best Score.

Approaching 3 years later, Kinky Boots continues to do strong business on Broadway, and the show's first National Tour is in Chicago for a 3-week run, of which I again saw the first performance.

Any modifications or adjustments that have been made since I last saw the show weren't readily apparent or appreciable, and I still found the stage adaptation of a British film comedy--with which I was unfamiliar before the musical came along, but have now seen albeit not recently enough to recall many details--to be a first-class piece of musical theater entertainment.

The story of Charlie (nicely played here by Steven Booth), who inherits a shoe factory in Northern England after the death of his father, and in the face of its impending closure enlists the aid of Lola--the nom de plume of a gay black drag queen named Simon--in designing boots for womanly-attired men, has only gained resonance given recent developments supporting LGBTQ rights and equality.

Without my meaning to intimate that abundant bigotry and hate doesn't still exist, the seemingly universal affection of the audience--which bestowed a standing ovation--actually almost made the fish-out-of-water storyline that has Lola (a terrific Kyle Taylor Parker) facing overt derision feel somewhat dated.

And the show's narrative feels weakest in fashioning a boilerplate intolerant asshole out of an oafish factory worker named Don (Joe Coots) and in having Charlie maliciously flip out on Lola in a moment of Act II dramatic tension that feels forced and unnatural.

But the book, by Broadway legend Harvey Fierstein, is predominantly both funny and poignant, while Lauper's score is truly terrific even as it avoids obvious hallmarks of her pop hits.

Songs like the early "The Most Beautiful Thing in the World," Lola-led numbers "The Sex is in the Heel" and "What a Woman Wants," a tune sung by a smitten-with-Charlie factory worker named Lauren (the delightful Lindsay Nicole Chambers) called "The History of Wrong Guys," Charlie's "Soul of a Man" and the closing "Raise You Up/Just Be" are all stellar show tunes that get fine renditions on the national tour.

Under the direction of Jerry Mitchell, who also helmed Chicago's latest pre-Broadway musical tryout, On Your Feet, the staging of Kinky Boots remains positively brilliant, for which the choreography by Mitchell and David Rockwell's scenic design--most demonstrably involving a conveyor belt employed as a dance platform--undoubtedly deserve plenty of credit.

So if you love musicals and have never seen Kinky Boots--or like me, loved it here back in 2012--there is no reason not to get down to the Cadillac Palace by July 26.

There is no noticeable downsizing post-Broadway and the three excellent leads all boast Broadway credits, even if Parker is a smidgen less astonishing than the Tony-winning Billy Porter.

As upon my initial encounter, I did not find Kinky Boots to be a perfect show, and though a top-tier musical, it is not quite on the level of 21st century masterpieces like The Producers, Hairspray, Wicked, Avenue Q, Billy Elliot, Spring Awakening or perhaps the latest rage, Hamilton, which I have yet to see.

If you buy a ticket expecting to have your mind-blown, it's possible you won't quite, but for any musical theater lover looking for a show with winning songs, creative staging and a touching tale, these 'Boots' are certainly made for walking out of the theater with a smile on your face--and in your brightly bedazzled, high-heeled heart.

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