Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Kinky Boots Sparkle at the Hippodrome

Any pair of boots would have been welcome to deal with the copious rainfall that landed outside the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center on opening night.  But the dazzling musical Kinky Boots, currently playing at the venerable theater, turns out to the best kind of boots.    #hocoarts 
Steven Booth (l.) and Kyle Taylor Parker in
Kinky Boots National Tour Photo: Matthew Murphy

Kinky Boots with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper and book by Harvey Fierstein topped the 2013 field by receiving 6 Tony Awards including Best Musical among 13 nominations.  Ms. Lauper, in her composing debut for the stage, was the first woman alone to receive the honor for Best Score.
Based on the 2005 film Kinky Boots, which was inspired by a true story, the musical tells of a near-bankrupt British shoe factory’s owner, Charlie (Steven Booth) who had inherited the business from his father.  He forms an unlikely partnership with a drag queen named Lola (Kyle Taylor Parker) to save the business. Charlie develops a plan to produce custom footwear for drag queens to support a man’s weight, rather than the men’s dress shoes that his firm is known for, and in the process, he and Lola bond and discover that they have a lot more in common than originally thought.

Mr. Fierstein, in penning the book, brings to the fore an impressive body of work where he has written about or performed as a drag queen (Torch Song Trilogy, La Cage Aux Folles, Hairspray).  And like these others, Kinky Boots excels in its touching, uplifting message with a strong infusion of humanity. Its overarching themes center on parental expectations, battling prejudice and stereotypes, and the need for open-mindedness.  With the setting in an economically struggling British factory town, Kinky Boots is similar to other Broadway musicals like Billy Elliot the Musical and The Full Monty.
Under the impeccable direction by Tony Award winner Jerry Mitchell who also masterfully choreographed the production, this touring iteration of Kinky Boots at the Hippodrome is a scintillating, vibrant spectacle that will entertain you and warm your heart.  Mr. Mitchell also choreographed The Full Monty and Hairspray and received Tony nominations for each.  

Profoundly superb staging, costuming, scenic design, sound, lighting, and musical direction were blended with near perfection to augment the talented cast.
Big splashy production numbers with dynamite choreography add tons of energy to the already electric show.  Ms. Lauper’s “Sex is in the Heel” in the first act is a show stopper in its own right; “Everybody Say Yeah,” a stirring song that brings down the act’s curtain, matches it.  The second act’s “In This Corner,” the boxing scene and a pivotal part of the storyline, also shines.

Mr. Booth as Charlie turns in a solid performance in clumsily trying to save the factory, manage his skeptical workers, balancing his desire to save the factory with his romantic life and overcoming his initial resistance to Lola’s world to eventually see the light.  His strong vocals are on display in the snappy song “Step One”—whereby Charlie invites Lola to the factory to design a boot for a “niche market”—and in particular, the moving “Soul of a Man” as he copes with the legacy of his father.
In a tour de force, Kyle Taylor Parker sparkles as the drag queen headliner Lola.  His silky smooth voice does justice to the beautiful score in “Land of Lola” where he performs with his excellent and acrobatic backup troupe of drag dancers, the Angels, and the tender ballad “Hold Me in Your Heart,” which he sings to his wheelchair-bound father, Simon, Sr., who did not approve of his son’s world.

But the most moving of all, “Not My Father’s Son,” in which he ultimately forms a duet with Mr. Booth is my favorite.  Though they tried to be like their fathers, both characters felt the sting from their falling short of their fathers’ expectations. That formed the bonding of the two disparate men.  The stunningly emotional lyrics resonate with all those who felt they let their parents down in some way but were determined to live their lives for themselves:

So I jumped in my dreams and found an escape
maybe I went to extremes of leather and lace,
but the world seems brighter six inches off the ground
and the air seemed lighter
I was profound and I felt so proud
just to live out loud
The entire ensemble is excellent in support of the leads.  Most notable among them include Joe Coots as Don, a boorish, testosterone-oozing antagonist to Lola and Lindsay Nicole Chambers as Lauren, also a factory worker and potential love interest for Charlie.   Ms. Chambers Cyndi Lauper-ish performance in “The History of Wrong Guys” is very well-done.

The technical elements of the production are of the highest caliber.  Musical conductor Adam Souza and his 9-piece orchestra ably supported the performances and did not overwhelm the vocals.  They achieved a perfect balance.
Scenic Designer Tony nominated David Rockwell fills the stage with an extraordinary functional and flexible set.  From a brick exterior depicting the outside of the shoe factory, an office, the floor of the factory, a boxing ring, a cabaret and even a catwalk, the set allows scenes to seamlessly transform throughout the show.  Upper platforms are employed to add dimension to the set and provide a change of eye level.

Another Tony nominee Costume Designer Gregg Barnes fitted Mr. Parker in satiny gowns and the Angels in a variety of bright colorful costumes highlighted by those boots!  He also ably designed the costumes for the blue collar factory workers, adding more reality to the staging.
Lighting effects by Tony winner Kenneth Posner also brings magic to the stage splashing the set in a palette of rich hues and spotlights throughout.

It is no wonder Kinky Boots won so many awards.  This is a compelling, splashy musical with heart and is mounted expertly on the Hippodrome stage.
Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.

Kinky Boots runs through October 4 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit ticketmaster.com or BaltimoreHippodrome.com.

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