Kicking at the Hippodrome: Nearly Perfect KINKY BOOTS

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Kicking at the Hippodrome: Nearly Perfect KINKY BOOTS

Kinky Boots

Posted on September 30, 2015

That you’re going to have a wonderful time at Kinky Boots is something I don’t have to tell you. If you’re a theatergoer with a pulse, you’ll have heard about the musical’s great success (six Tonys, two-and-a-half years on Broadway). And you’ll probably know that it was crafted from a movie that was itself all but a perfect musical, but for the absence of dedicated songs. You’ll also know that Kinky Boots‘ book is by Harvey Fierstein and the songs by Cyndi Lauper. With credentials like that, it would be inconceivable that the result could be other than bliss. All the rest is simply a bunch of details.

Still, it is the reviewer’s job to dwell on details, and it is the time for Baltimore reviewers to do the detailing, since the national touring company has touched down in town for a week at the Hippodrome.

So here goes. Take the basic problems presented in Brassed Off, Local Hero, and The Full Monty, i.e. the deindustrialization of Britain and resulting working-class unemployment, observe those problems with the wry humor of those films, add drag performers from La Cage Aux Folles, a sensitive trans person of color from The Crying Game, a “love thyself” theme from Hairspray, and a romance between factory boss and subordinate straight out of Pajama Game. Stir well, and voilà!, you have a tale of a band of shoe workers and their manager who resist the oblivion that awaits British manufacturing by switching from ordinary cobbling to fabricating a line of sexy boots for drag performers. You know going in that the saving of the factory will be the personal salvation of the factory’s saviors. The fun lies in how this inevitable comic outcome emerges.

Fierstein has done a fine job of machining down the movie’s already well-turned version of the story. He’s dropped a couple of plot developments that probably are better dropped, transformed a relatively unspectacular arm-wrestling contest into a boxing match that has great visual and comic potential, made the ingénue role far more interesting, and otherwise mostly let well enough alone. Lauper’s bright, still 80s-sounding musical palette reminds us how much joy there was in pop of that era. (Though I wish they’d kept the first big drag number from the movie, the songWhatever Lola Wants from Damn Yankees.) The choreography, by Jerry Mitchell, is nothing short of sensational. (My favorite bit was a deservedly drawn-out number performed by various members of the ensemble on moving conveyor belts.)

And the cast is perfect. The lead drag queen and heroine, Lola, portrayed in this incarnation by Kyle Taylor Parker, is a singing and dancing sensation, never fazed by skyscraper heels or the plot’s demands for shifting wardrobe genders. I particularly like his duet with the chief straight white guy, Not My Father’s Son. Steven Booth acquits himself well as Charlie, the aforementioned straight white guy. And you can’t take your eyes off Lindsay Nicole Chambers as Lauren, Charlie’s love interest, the character most altered from the movie; her collection of hesitancies, tics, and gushing add up to a dramatically compelling portrait of a young woman with a growing crush on her boss. Nor can one neglect to mention Joe Coots as Don, the conventional bloke most challenged by the swishy black trans person introduced into the factory environment. You know a bromance of sorts is nonetheless in the offing, but Coots makes you care.

Looking past the big roles, the ensemble is wonderful, especially the “Angels,” the six-member song-and-dance team that backs up Lola. But the little dramatic roles are beautifully filled as well.

The only flaw – and to be fair it’s a big one – is the sound design. Lord knows it’s hard to produce Broadway-quality sound on a tour, but the sad acoustic truth is that when a chorus gets loud, the consonants tend to get lost, and when that happens, comprehension will suffer. Management stuck a sizeable collection of us critics up in the middle balcony, so I can’t speak for the rest of the house, but I can tell you that the critics of the middle balcony were complaining amongst each other about the inability to make out the lyrics in the choral numbers. Candidly, you could do worse than download the album and give it a listen before coming to this show.

But do come. You’ll have a wonderful time.

Copyright (c) Jack L. B. Gohn, except for production photograph.

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