KINKY BOOTS Will “Raise You Up” With Its Uplifting, Entertaining Story

KINKY BOOTS Will “Raise You Up” With Its Uplifting, Entertaining Story

Review: KINKY BOOTS on tour at the Oriental Theatre

By Rachel Weinberg

Kick up your heels—the 2013 Tony Award-winning musical KINKY BOOTS is back in Chicago for the first time since its pre-Broadway world premiere! This first national tour engagement at Broadway In Chicago’s Oriental Theatre captures much of the vivacity and positive “be yourself” spirit embedded in the show’s script (with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper and book by Harvey Fierstein). The current ensemble though has, ahem, rather large shoes to fill, especially in the wake of Billy Porter’s phenomenal Tony-winning turn as drag queen Lola. On the whole, the ensemble infuses this production of KINKY BOOTS with the joy and passion needed to make the musical work (and they execute director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell’s dance moves nicely). Gregg Barnes’s costumes shine brightly as ever for this production, and those titular boots remain literally dazzling. Acclaimed designer David Rockwell’s set is rendered nicely here—the set does not feel lacking in any way.

KINKY BOOTS follows Charlie Price, who has inherited his father’s struggling shoe factory Price & Son. Charlie believes he may be able to save the factory with the help of an unexpected friend: a drag queen performer in need of some sturdy heels. Together, Charlie and Lola embark on a plan to create the first ever line of women’s stiletto heels..for men.

In the hands (or should, I say the heels) of J. Harrison Ghee, this KINKY BOOTS has found a lovely Lola. Ghee infuses his character with just the right mix of liveliness, confidence, and sass while also allowing us to see the vulnerabilities that lie beneath. He commands the stage during Lola’s big numbers, especially “The Sex Is In The Heel” in which he educates Charlie about the importance of a good stiletto heel. Lola’s fellow angels (Joseph Anthony Byrd, Sam Dowling, Ian Gallagher Fitzgerald, JP Qualters, Xavier Reyes, and Sam Rohloff) are also sensational performers. Adam Kaplan captures Charlie’s affable nature, but his vocals and his British accent are occasionally uneven and his use of falsetto feels tentative. As Charlie’s self-centered girlfriend Nicola, Ellen Marlow (who understudies the role) nails the sass and attitude, though her British accent is inconsistent. Tiffany Engen is immensely likable as factory worker Lauren (who has an unabashed crush on Charlie). I’ve always thought Lauren’s solo “The History of Wrong Guys” to be one of the strongest numbers in KINKY BOOTS, and Engen does it total justice. Overall the ensemble work here is solid, and the cast is especially fun to watch in the Act One finale “Everybody Say Yeah.”

Even with some changes since the show’s world premiere here in Chicago, KINKY BOOTS still succeeds the most on the high-energy numbers and occasionally drags on the ballads. Charlie’s Act One solo “Step One” feels timid (though perhaps that’s partly a character device) and slows down the action. The later duet between Charlie and Lola “Not My Father’s Son,” meant to lend emotional weight to the characters, still lasts a few minutes too long. When KINKY BOOTS gets going, though, it really gets going. And the finale sequence remains a pure delight.

While the story of KINKY BOOTS is entertaining and lighthearted, the slow wholeheartedly celebrates the importance of being true to one’s self and accordingly the importance of accepting others. This message, while didactic, remains true especially as we navigate a changing landscape of gender identities. And in this current touring rendition, KINKY BOOTS continues to be uplifting and utterly joyous.

About author

Rachel Weinberg

Rachel Weinberg has been a freelance theater critic around Chicago for more than three years. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Prior to that, Rachel worked for two years in digital marketing at Goodman Theatre and spent a season as a Marketing Apprentice for Roundabout Theatre Company in New York City. You can read all of Rachel's reviews at RachelWeinbergReviews.com and find her on Twitter @RachelRWeinberg.

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