Chicago Theatre Review
Sex is in the Heel
Kinky Boots – Broadway in Chicago
Chicago audiences are currently being treated to the return engagement, albeit a short one, of an exciting musical that enjoyed a pre-Broadway tryout here, back in 2012. In theatre, an actor whose skills are many is called a triple threat. This show was 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 trio adapted the 2005 British film of the same name into a somewhat campy, brilliantly effervescent and heartwarming musical comedy that offers a message for everyone.
The musical tells the true story of Charlie Price, a young Englishman who tries to keep his family’s floundering shoe factory afloat after his father’s sudden death. Motivated by an outspoken, statuesque drag queen named Lola, and assisted by a spunky, devoted 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, offering a sincere lesson about being true to yourself.
Going on to win six Tony Awards, including Best Score and Musical, this new National Tour, here for a third time, 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 what it means to be a man through his work with Charlie who, in turn, learns interdependence and humility. The show also succeeds largely through Cyndi Lauper’s infectious pop rock score, although a couple songs have wisely been cut or rewritten since the 2012 production. Ms. Lauper’s songs range from soulful, heartfelt ballads (“I’m Not My Father’s Son,” a duet by Charlie and Lola) to playful character songs (Lauren’s delightful “The History of Wrong Guys”) and rousing, infectious dance hits (“Raise You Up”). Jerry Mitchell’s careful direction, with an eye for surprising detail, wicked fun and moments of honest tenderness, also spices up the musical with his Tony Award-winning choreography. The result is a show that brings the audience to its feet every time.
As Charlie, talented and charismatic Adam Kaplan, a likable young actor with a terrific voice and dance moves, plays the role created by Stark Sands. Mr. Kaplan demonstrates his vocal prowess in numbers like “Step One” and “Everybody Say Yeah,” and his eleventh hour ballad, “The Soul of a Man,” which is poignant and powerful. Bubbling with naughty-but-nice perkiness, lovely Tiffany Engen kills it with her skill and polish, creating a spunky, lovable Lauren. Her singing and characterization are spot on and that lovable pixie quality is sheer perfection.
This production, however, truly and rightfully belongs to the handsome J. Harrison Ghee as Lola. Cast in the role for which Billy Porter won his Tony Award, Mr. Ghee’s work is always full of style. He’s broad and over-the-top when necessary, but never simply one note. The talented actor offers layers of true sensitivity countered by fireworks that absolutely light up the stage. Besides his outrageous drag numbers, particularly “Land of Lola,” “Raise You Up” and the seductive “Sex is in the Heel,” Ghee sings the evening’s most impassioned song, an honest, heartfelt ballad, dedicated to his father, “Hold Me in Your Heart.”
Back for another 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 likable and memorable and the message is positive and rewarding. “Kinky Boots” absolutely kicks butt and demonstrates, once again, that “Sex is in the Heel.”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented August 30-September 4 by Broadway in Chicago at the Ford Oriental Theatre, 24 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.