Yes! Men, women and people still deciding, put on your kinky boots and strut to The Bushnell Performing Arts Center in Hartford. Or just strut to the theater in the footwear of your choosing to see “Kinky Boots” because girls and men (and people still deciding) just wanna have fun in this glamourous, dynamic pop musical.
“Kinky Boots” features music by composer and lyricist Cyndi Lauper (you may have heard of her) and a book written by playwright Harvey Fierstein, best known for his acting role as Frank in “Mrs. Doubtfire” and also the writer of “Newsies” and “La Cage aux Folles” (which he also performed in).
It’s a true “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” story. Charlie (Steven Booth) probably felt like he had to walk a mile in someone else’s kinky boots (and it didn’t look easy when he did!) by the end of the show. He reluctantly inherits his father’s family men’s shoes factory, Price & Son, when he dies and is about to give it up when his employee, Lauren (Lindsay Nicole Chambers) challenges him to change the product to meet popular demand instead of closing up shop and putting people out of work. After meeting drag queen Lola (Kyle Taylor Parker), born as Simon, who often has to throw out her cheap high-heeled boots because they break quickly, Charlie finds his niche market and transforms his factory into a business that still makes men’s shoes, but turns an unconventional, unique product — high-heeled boots for men who dress like woman to perform in drag shows.
It’s a story about acceptance of other people for who they are, as Don (Joe Coots) learns following a boxing match with a professionally trained Lola in a battle between them about what defines a real man. But it’s also a story about accepting yourself for who you are no matter what anyone else thinks. Lola is the most herself dressed as a woman and dressing like a man in conformity to society just represses and subdues her.
I thoroughly enjoyed Coots’s pre-show sketch discouraging cell phone use in character as Don.
Kyle Taylor Parker is stunning as Lola. A sparkling white gown with a trailing silk cape and a form-fitting glittery red stringy dress are just two of the outfits that put his character’s stamp on fashion and glitz that dazzle the eye. Not only does he project the most manly feminine powerhouse diva vocals you’ll hear, but man can he and all of the other men playing drag queens dance in this show! And in such high heels! They have the grace, poise and flexibility of your typical female dancers with finesse and athleticism of men to give the dances power, spunk and attitude. I’d like to take a lesson or two from them in how to walk in shoes like that. Not your average low-heeled dance shoe! Did I mention Parker was in the Original Broadway Company of “Kinky Boots” on Broadway? It’s such a treat to see an original cast member in a touring show because that doesn’t happen every day!
The first act closes with a dynamic dance number that puts you into intermission on a positive note. It was refreshing given a lot of shows end Act One with a problem.
There’s a reason Booth must have been cast alongside Parker. He’s a rock star! He’s got the power to match the force in Parker’s voice, making for both great dueling vocals and beautiful harmonies. I would go see him front and center at a rock concert. His voice really carries through the rafters and his enthusiasm makes you love him as Charlie.
My only critique with his character was that when Charlie feels pressure to get the Kinky Boots on the runway in Milan to save his father’s shoe factory, he turns too quickly on Lola and shoes a prejudice and embarrassment toward her flamboyant qualities and drag wardrobe. Charlie seems too nice and accepting throughout the play to suddenly be so cruel and judgmental, but then again he’s just discovering being driven to accomplish something so maybe it gets the better of him and he says things he doesn’t really believe. I’m not sure this is Booth’s fault because it’s also how the plot is written in the script, but I guess I didn’t believe that side of the character in the way I read him.
Chambers made an adorable pairing with Charlie as the girl who falls for her friend who is engaged. She really excels in “The History of the Wrong Guy,” when she really thrusts comedy into her emotional, self-realizing song about her love for Charlie. She has a phenomenal voice that she knows how to manipulate for comedic effect when necessary.
I’m glad she got the guy in the end and not Charlie’s materialistic, money-driven fiancée Nicola (Grace Stockdale), who barely appears in the story and you often forget she’s in the picture. But when Stockdale is on stage, she is ever present and puts strong energy and character into the role. Her scene that said everything to me was when Charlie sees her wearing the sparkling red expensive heels that she always asked him for and he never bought her, it explains everything without her even saying it. If the shoe fits.
Actually, in a lot of ways, the shoes tell a big part of the story. They say who someone is and where they come from, as well as symbolize where they’re going and when they’re worn down from their journey. The boots are the heart of the show. Major props to costumer Gregg Barnes.
The show dragged at times in the monologuing slow ballads and was the most dynamic in the drag dance numbers, particularly the impressive one involving the shoe conveyer belts. Acoustics is an ongoing issue in the Bushnell space in terms being able to hear the lyrics clearly over the music. The sound carries fine and the show was beautiful musically, but especially from the mezzanine, I couldn’t understand some of the actors’ lines and words in the songs, particularly with the added challenge of the actors speaking in British accents. That didn’t take away from my enjoyment and the story was pretty easy to follow.
The ensemble made the world of Price & Son lively. I wish the story went outside the shoe store more, showing the public’s reaction to the kinky boots, but not sure if that’s a staging issue because of the way the book is written.
The children playing Young Charlie (Anthony Picarello) and Young Lola (Horace V. Rogers) were incredible and held their own in a production that’s mostly adults. It took me a little while to realize who the second boy was, but reflecting back, it makes sense and gives you the backstory on Lola’s relationship with her father, who wants her to be something she’s not. It sets up her performance for him in drag at the nursing home later on.
Wethersfield native Maggie McDowell was also in the cast on her tour debut as a swing actress.
Walking away from the show (after dancing during the standing ovation), I will remember the dance numbers and costumes the most. And the boots (one of the actor even used a kinky boot to hold the corner of the boxing ring!). Where can us ladies get some of those?
As Charlie would say, for me it was one big, “yyyyyeeeeeeessss!”
You still have until June 28 to see “Kinky Boots.” Jerry Mitchell directed and choreographed the production and Stephen Oremus was the music supervisor/arranger. Adam Souza conducted the impressive pop orchestra and Ryan Fielding Garrett was associate conductor.
The show was sold out on press night Tuesday, so get your tickets soon.
Note on Friday that there will be a lot of traffic in Hartford due to the Fall Out Boy and Wiz Khalifa show at Xfinity Theatre, so allow for some extra time. For more information on the show and purchasing tickets, you can visit bushnell.org/kinkyboots.