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Friday, 30 June 2023 10:08

Review: 'Kinky Boots' is the Tremendously Bold, Feel-Good Hit of the Summer

Written by  Marin Heinritz
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"Kinky Boots" at Mason Street Warehouse. "Kinky Boots" at Mason Street Warehouse. Courtesy Photo

If ever there were the perfect show at the perfect time in the perfect place, it’s Kinky Boots at Mason Street Warehouse in Saugatuck this summer.

This enormously delightful, multiple Tony-Award winning 2013 musical proves, once and for all, that drag is, indeed, mainstream; and at least equally important: it absolutely can be the highest of arts—and for a purpose well beyond its entertainment value (which is immense).

Written by Harvey Fierstein (La Cage Aux Folles and Torch Song Trilogy) Kinky Boots cleverly 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 North England factory town, saved by a glamazon cabaret singer in need of women’s shoes fit for a man. Generously sharing hard-earned wisdom, Lola is both hero and inspiration to Charlie, who’s inherited the woeful family business, and they 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 this show is so much more than the bones of its story; with Director Kurt Stamm’s glorious vision and an astoundingly talented cast, this stunning production is a magnificent, heartfelt spectacle. 

Fabulous choreography by Jay Gamboa that’s part Vogue, part showgirl, part breakdance, part hip hop, part gymnastics, is the driving force of big numbers performed by the Angels, a chorus of six men dressed exquisitely (unforgettable costumes by Darlene Veenstra and magnificent wigs by James Leppa) as women in six-inch heels who dance flawlessly——that just might steal the show if it weren’t for all the exceptional actors who match them in skill and expressivity and make real utterly charming characters.

David Socolar plays a sympathetic Charlie, his character arc and performance beautifully paced and emboldened as he comes into his own; and his conventional working-class straight guy lament, “I never been passionate about nothing” resonates powerfully amid the crisis of masculinity he and the other workers face in the presence of Lola, played magnificently and lovingly by Topher J. Babb who makes the iconic role all their own—and with impeccable comic timing. 

Becca Andrews is also a phenomenal comedienne as spitfire Lauren, fully committed to her hilarious awkward quirks and delightful pas de deux with an air compressor in her wonderful “The History of Wrong Guys”. Javier Garcia is terrific as tough guy Don, as is Tess Marshall as ice-queen fiancée to Charlie, Nicola. 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 Euro-trash pop, R&B, funk, and big rock opera sounds, the music is as eclectic and wildly fun as its offbeat composer, Cyndi Lauper; and under Musical Direction from Tom Vendafreddo with a fantastic, live band, it sounds brilliant. Highlights include the funky “Sex Is in the Heel,” an homage to flirty feminine footwear; “Everybody Say Yeah,” a stunningly athletic reimagining of the original show-stopping Act I finale; the sexy gender fluid “What a Woman Wants”; and “Raise You Up/Just Be,” the high-energy fashion-show catwalk kicker with thigh-high shimmering stiletto boots and glittery matching frocks that triumphantly brings the house down.

All the technical elements beautifully shape and create place, space, mood, and glorious spectacle, from Jeremy Barnett’s multi-level, malleable set with moving platforms and ladders to Kevin MacLeod’s terrific props to Christopher Mahmann’s excellent projections that seamlessly signify locale to Jennifer Kules’ lights that dramatically elucidate changes in events, mood, and tone.

This production of Kinky Boots is a hugely successful and passionate collaboration, much like the subject of the show itself. Hugely beautiful and fun more than irreverent or explicitly sexual in any way, it pushes the boundaries of sweetness and glamour more than anything else, showing the power of truly being yourself and fully accepting others. It’s the perfect fit at Mason Street Warehouse, a tremendously bold, feel-good hit of the summer.

Kinky Boots
Mason Street Warehouse
June 23-July 16
https://sc4a.org/event/kinky-boots/

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