Tuesday, 24 October 2017 17:50

Review: ‘Kinky Boots’ breaks down gender norms with joy and sweetness

Written by  Marin Heinritz
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Review: ‘Kinky Boots’ breaks down gender norms with joy and sweetness COURTESY PHOTO

Cyndi Lauper made famous the notion that “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” in 1983, but in 2013, she convincingly made the argument that it’s actually drag queens who have the most fun with the enormously delightful, multiple Tony-Award winning musical “Kinky Boots,” for which she wrote the score.

It’s been a long time coming, the full expression of this love affair — spread like wildfire even in middle America — with spirited drag queens who are pretty, buff, dance like a dream, possess hearts of gold as well as plenty of sass and creative genius, and generously dispense Oscar Wilde witticisms and life lessons to those lesser creatures who aren’t as fabulous or flawless. This is largely thanks to a cultural moment ripe for queerdom, not to mention RuPaul’s Drag Race, as well as other relatively mainstream shows, including La Cage Aux Folles and Torch Song Trilogy by Harvey Fierstein, the very author of Kinky Boots’ book.

It tells the unlikely tale, based on a 2005 little-seen British film (itself based on a BBC documentary), of a failing shoe manufacturer in a dying British factory town, saved by a glamazon cabaret singer in need of women’s shoes fit for a man. Charlie and Lola team up to cater to the extremely niche market and save the business, discovering along the way they’re not so different from one another after all.

But really, this show, presented by an astoundingly talented touring company at Miller Auditorium in Kalamazoo, is a glorious spectacle. Directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, the Angels, a chorus of six-foot tall men dressed exquisitely (costumes by Gregg Barnes) as women in six-inch heels flawlessly perform choreography — as if they were Alvin Ailey dancers — that’s part vogue, part showgirl, part Fosse, part acrobatics. They might steal the show if it weren’t for the powerful soloists who match them in skill and expressivity.

Lance Bordelon plays a sympathetic Charlie, his conventional working-class straight guy lament, “I never been passionate about nothing,” resonating powerfully amid the crisis of masculinity he and the other workers face in the presence of Lola, played with great love and energy by Jos N. Banks whose only flaw is a working-class Midlands accent that goes more than it comes. Adam du Plessis is terrific as tough guy Don, as is Hayley Lampart as Nicola (Charlie’s ice-queen fiancee), and Sydney Patrick as spitfire Lauren. Each character is distinct and dynamic in movement and voice, and powerfully builds the story to a standing ovation crescendo, particularly with the infectious songs.

Influenced by Latin beats, electronic Eurotrash pop, and big rock opera sounds, the music is as eclectic and wildly fun as its offbeat composer. Highlights include the funky “Sex Is in the Heel,” an homage to flirty feminine footwear; “Everybody Say Yeah,” with stunningly athletic choreography atop moveable conveyor belts; the sexy gender-fluid “What a Woman Wants;” and “Raise You Up/Just Be,” the show-stopping high-energy fashion-show catwalk kicker with thigh-high shimmering stiletto boots and glittery matching frocks representing the Union Jack, a Beefeater, and a Scot, among other icons of the British Isles.

Kinky Boots is more fun and playful than irreverent or explicitly about sexuality. It pushes the boundaries of sweetness and glamour more than anything else, and is exactly the kind of exuberant Broadway musical Kalamazoo audiences can’t get enough of.

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