Kinky Boots Is A Perfect Fit Of A Show

Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.

Reviewed by Hans Bachmann

Ran June 14 through July 19, 2016

A stormy night in Washington D.C. was no competition for the electric performances on stage on the opening Thursday night of the national tour of Kinky Boots at the Kennedy Center. This musical reboot of a charming 2005 British film about a son’s desperate attempt to keep his deceased father’s shoe company alive is quite the force of nature itself. With driving anthems and touching ballads written by 80’s pop star and LGBT activist Cyndi Lauper famous for the hits “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “True Colors” and a book by Harvey Fierstein who authored La Cage Aux Folles and Newsies, there was plenty of energy on stage to rival the thunder and lightning outside.

I had seen Kinky Boots, winner of the 2013 Best Musical Tony Award, on Broadway with Billy Porter who was also named Leading Actor in a Musical, but I didn’t really warm up to the show. Maybe my expectations had been too high, having heard from all of my theater colleagues about what an incredible show it was. So I was surprised how this production caught me up and moved me so much more than the original I saw in New York. This is in small part due to the incredible performance by J. Harrison Ghee.

The story of the musical closely follows the movie. Young Charlie (Aidan Passaro) is schooled by his father Mr. Price (Tom Souhrada) that “the most beautiful thing in the world” is a shoe, while we see a young Simon/Lola (Jayden Brown) trying on a red pair of women’s heels to the aggravation of his father (Horace V. Rogers). In a second, Charlie (Adam Kaplan)—who is not as inspired by shoemaking as his dad, is grown and leaving for London with his fiancée (Charissa Hogeland), only to be called back to Northampton to take over the failing factory, Price and Son, after his father unexpected dies. It seems the sensible men’s shoes made by the factory are no longer selling, but after a trip back to London to try to convince an old friend and shoe salesman (Josh Toll) to help temporarily, Charlie meets a drag queen—Lola (Ghee) grown up—and finds a niche market that just might save the factory, women’s high-heeled boots that will support the weight of a man. Motivated by an enamored female production-line worker (Tiffany Engen), and enlisting the help of Lola as designer and the reluctant remaining factory workers, Charlie proceeds with various missteps to make the line of Kinky Boots to be shown at a prestigious footwear show in Milan.

Ghee dominates the stage as Lola, whether performing the driving number `Land Of Lola’ in the drag club backed by his lithe and leggy Angels, inspiring Charlie and the rest of the workers in the factory with `The Sex Is In The Heel’, quietly revealing his inner conflict in `Not My Father’s Son,’ or surprisingly taking on a misogynistic and homophobic worker Don (Aaron Walpole) in a boxing match. Ghee also provides the show’s most inspirational moment convincing Don, and ultimately others, to ‘Accept someone for who they are,’ which applies not only to Lola’s alleged alternate lifestyle but to all of those people in our lives  who may not live up to our expectations. Kaplan is convincing, earnest, and emotionally torn as the conflicted Charlie, and Engen is charmingly goofy and awkward as the lovelorn Lauren. Another standout is Jim J. Bullock, known by many from the 1980s sitcom “Too Close For Comfort,” as the gently supportive plant manager, George, who insists on calling Charlie “Mr. Price” like his father.

This exciting and fast-paced show, full of funny and touching moments throughout, and with a great score by Lauper and book by Fierstein, is a perfect way to spend a summer’s evening in Washington.

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