Theater review: “Kinky Boots”

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J. Harrison Ghee as Lola in “Kinky Boots.” Photo by Matthew Murphy.

With its big red sparkling heels, the touring production of the popular Broadway musical “Kinky Boots” stomped its flamboyant way into Austin Tuesday night at Bass Concert Hall.

The Austin premiere of the Tony-winning show — with music by pop icon Cyndi Lauper and a book by four-time Tony winner Harvey Fierstein —  launched the second year of its U.S. tour.

And its heartfelt modern messaging, its calls for acceptance of diversity (think “Hairspray” and “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”) and pleasant pop sound — not to mention its flashy high-heeled choreography — proved a formula with irresistible audience appeal.

The story shoring up “Kinky Boots” follows a familiar trajectory (think “Billy Elliott” and “The Full Monty”) of provincials in a down-and-out British industrial city whose lives and hearts are saved when they accept their progressive cultural counterpoint — in this case a towering drag queen named Lola (J. Harrison Ghee).

Forced by his father’s unexpected death to save the family’s failing shoe factory, Charlie Price (Adam Kaplan) must abandon his upwardly mobile fiancee (Charissa Hogeland) and upwardly mobile plans for a life of his own.

A quick and improbable crossing-of-paths brings Charlie and Lola together. And true to these types of plots, Charlie and Lola discover they have more in common than they’d either ever imagined. Together, they begin a venture to save the shoe factory by making flashy yet sturdy footwear for the cross-dressing crowd.

Ghee, an experienced drag performer and dancer, gives Lola a believable combination of verve and vulnerability.

A spirited and wonderfully comedic Tiffany Engen, as the enterprising factory girl Lauren, has what is arguably the show’s most distinctively Lauper-sounding song, “The History of Wrong Guys.”

The first-act closing number “Everybody Say Yeah”  might well count as the show’s spirited theatrical and choreographic highpoint (its use of a moving assembly-line belt is nevertheless a bit too derivative of OK Go’s 2006 viral hit music video for “Here It Goes Again”).

But the show-ending “Raise You Up/Just Be” proved the pop anthem and spectacle that sent the audience to its feet.
With all the elements of a hit show “Kinky Boots” delivers on what it was designed to do.

As Lauper told the American-Statesman in a recent interview: “It makes people so happy. You can walk in grumpy and get happy.”

 

“Kinky Boots” continues through Nov. 15 at Bass Concert Hall. www.texasperformingarts.org


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