Chicago Theatre Review
Sex is in the Heel
Kinky Boots – Broadway in Chicago
In theatre, a multi-skilled actor is called a triple threat. Audiences in Chicago are being treated to the return engagement of an exciting musical (that enjoyed a pre-Broadway tryout here, back in 2012), conceived, composed and choreographed by the triple threat creative team of Harvey Fierstein (book), Cyndi Lauper (music and lyrics) and Jerry Mitchell (director and choreographer). The talented triumvirate adapted the 2005 British film of the same name into a campy, effervescent, heartwarming musical comedy that offered a message for everyone. Both tell the true story of Charlie, a young Englishman who tries to keep his family’s floundering shoe factory operating after his father’s sudden death. With motivation from a drag queen named Lola, and assistance from a spunky factory employee named Lauren (who ultimately falls for Charlie, her new boss), they revitalize the shoe industry by designing and manufacturing colorful, sparkling thigh-high boots for cross-dressing drag queens. The result is glum factory meets glittery nightclub, with a lesson about being true to yourself.
Going on to win six Tony Awards, including Best Score and Musical, this new National Tour show succeeds on every level. Tony Award winner Fierstein’s book allows his wonderful characters, particularly Charlie, the space to learn and grow. In spite of his fiancee Nicola’s tight rein over him, Charlie gradually develops his own voice in the shadow of his father’s legacy. Lola learns about what it means to be a man through his work with Charlie and Charlie, in turn, learns interdependence. The show also succeeds largely through Cyndi Lauper’s infectious pop rock score, although a couple songs have been wisely cut or rewritten since the 2012 production. Ms. Lauper’s songs range from soulful, heartfelt ballads (“I’m Not My Father’s Son”sung by Charlie and Lola) to playful character songs (Lauren’s delightful “The History of Wrong Guys”) and rousing, can’t-stay-in-your-seat dance hits (“Raise You Up”). And Jerry Mitchell’s direction, with his eye for unique details, wicked fun and moments of tenderness, spices up the musical with his Tony Award-winning brand of choreography. The end result is a show that brings the audience to its feet.
As Charlie, talented Broadway actor Steven Booth, a likable young actor with a terrific voice and dance moves, plays the role created by Stark Sands. Mr. Booth demonstrates his vocal prowess in numbers like “Step One” and “Everybody Say Yeah,” and his eleventh hour ballad, “The Soul of a Man,” is beautifully poignant and powerful. Although missing some of the naughty-but-nice perkiness created by Annaleigh Ashford, the actress who originated the role, lovely Lindsay Nicole Chambers is skilled and polished as spunky, lovable Lauren. Her singing and characterization are very good, but that pixie quality just isn’t quite there. This production, however, truly belongs to Kyle Taylor Parker as Lola. Cast in the role for which Billy Porter won his Tony Award, Mr. Parker’s work is broad and over-the-top when it needs to be, but never all one note, as might be expected in this kind of role. Besides his outrageous drag numbers, especially the seductive “Sex is in the Heel,” Porter offers the evening’s most impassioned song with his extraordinarily earnest “Hold Me in Your Heart.”
Back for more high-kicking Folles de Footwear, “Kinky Boots” is enjoying a brief return to the city where it was originally cobbled. Since this joyous musical premiered in Chicago, a few changes have been made, creating a tighter, better focused show; however, all the glitz and glamour, heels and heart are still present in Jerry Mitchell’s entertaining production. The story is engaging, the characters appealing and the message is worthwhile. “Kinky Boots” absolutely kicks butt and demonstrates, once again, that “Sex is in the Heel.”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented July 7-26 by Broadway in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago.
Tickets are available at all Broadway in Chicago box offices, at all Ticketmaster locations, by calling the Chicago Ticket Line at 800-775-2000 or by going to www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.