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Kinky Boots – The Sexy Heels Are Back

Kinky Boots – The Sexy Heels Are Back
Adam Kaplan, J. Harrison Ghee

Adam Kaplan, J. Harrison Ghee

It is hard to believe it was just a few short years ago when a hopeful Cyndi Lauper, Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Mitchell were premiering a brand new musical in the Windy City, featuring  a slew of loveable factory workers and dandy drag queens. Well, six Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Score (music and/or lyrics) for Lauper herself, the first ever for a female solo artist in that category, a Grammy for Best Musical Album, multiple Drama League and Outer Critics Circle Awards, later, Kinky Boots is now strutting an exceedingly triumphant return to Chicago, for a one week run at the Oriental Theater. Based on the 2005 art film of the same name, Kinky Boots is an extraordinarily uplifting underdog story centered around a floundering shoe manufacturing plant made successful by the mantra “you can change the world when you change your mind.” With an empowering book by Harvey Fierstein, delightfully infectious choreography and direction by Jerry Mitchell,  and a killer soundtrack by Emmy, Grammy and now Tony Award-winner, Cyndi Lauper, Kinky Boots is a jubilant, vibrant, charming, winning story and a late summer, Broadway in Chicago, must see!

Adam Kaplan, J. Harrison Ghee

For those not in the know, Boots begins its tale in Northampton’s Price and Son’s Shoe Factory. Charlie Price (Adam Kaplan) inherits said factory, which has been in the family for four generations, upon the abrupt and untimely passing of his father.  Charlie’s big problem, he has no interest in shoes whatsoever.  Instead, he wishes to move to London with his new fiancé, Nicola (Ellen Marlow) and work for a successful marketing firm. Feeling an overwhelming sense of familial obligation, Charlie begrudgingly returns to manage in an attempt to salvage the floundering factory.  With the downturn in the economy, no one is buying the sensible shoes Price and Son’s have been manufacturing for decades.  It’s a chance meeting that turns Charlie’s world upside down. Thwarting a potential mugging, Charlie happens upon the one and only Lola (J. Harrison Ghee) an over-the-top female impersonator, with the voice of an angel, tongue of the devil, and legs for days. Lola’s a brazen blend of Beyoncé, Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, James Brown and Muhammad Ali!  More on that last one later.  Impressed after watching Lola and her Angels perform the energetic  and show stopping  “Land of Lola,” Charlie has found the inspiration he needs to salvage his struggling business, the underserved  “niche market” for whom his factory can now create shoes.  Men who like to dress as women.  Lola has but one request for her custom made boots.  They need to be “two and a half feet of irresistible, tubular, sex!”

 J. Harrison Ghee

J. Harrison Ghee

Charlie and Lola’s bro-mance is based upon mutual respect and shared feelings of inadequacy when dealing with the complex relationship each man has with his respective father. Charlie feels he is falling short of his dad’s succession plan, while Lola (birth name Simon) had a father who trained him to be a world champion boxer, not a female impersonator who arrived “in a white cocktail dress” for a boxing match.  Both men shine vocally during the studied duet “Not My Father’s Son.” When Lola and her Angels arrive at the workshop, they are dismayed and distraught to see the conventional and boring boot Charlie has crafted. “Burgundy is the color of hot water bottles” Lola admonishes upon witnessing the sensible flat heeled construction. The aggressive choreography of  “Sex is in the Heel” showcases Lola’s many talents, including innate design creativity, so she quickly agrees to join the factory’s work force in the capacity of a designer. “The world seems brighter six inches off the ground” she coos. Work in Northampton proves trickier to negotiate as Lola encounters tremendous resentment from a homophobic factory worker, Don (Aaron Walpole).  After the multifaceted tango to the tune “What a Woman Wants,” Don challenges Lola to a boxing match at Fisticuffs gym to prove who is indeed the better man.  Not knowing about his prize fighting background, Lola could have easily taken down Don in the clever “In This Corner” number.

Tiffany Engen

Tiffany Engen

Charlie faces additional complications of his own. In one corner, his icy fiancé, Nicola, who wants him to sell the factory and return with her to London. In the other, there is his coworker Lauren (Tiffany Engen) a plucky, insecure, Girl Friday, who has developed a man-sized crush on her engaged  employer. Showcasing an array of scene-stealing comedic timing, Lauren entertains with the anthem “The History of Wrong Guys.”  The lyrics laments “Chapter one-he’s a bum.  Two-he’s not into you. Three – He’s a sleaze. Four – loves the girl next door. Five – loves the boy next door.  Six-don’t love you no more.”  Well, at this point, the entire audience has fallen in love in Lauren. Charlie, what is taking you so long? Also along for the ride and generating multiple laughs, Too Close for Comfort and Hollywood Squares star, Jim J. Bullock in the role of George, Charlie’s right hand man.

Ellen Marlow, Adam Kaplan

Ellen Marlow, Adam Kaplan

Oscar Wilde once said “Be yourself, everybody else is already taken.” That simple life-lesson is fundamental  to the numerous personal journeys of each character in the show.  A person’s true power is realized only when being true to their authentic selves.  Don accepts both Lola and Charlie, and each man accepts themselves and one other.  Within the powerful  “Soul of a Man” and “Hold Me In Your Heart”  act two ballads and the glorious, foot stomping, feverish finale of  “Raise You Up/Just Be,” Kinky Boots proves its worth by lifting the human spirit.  “Now I’m standing on high heels, if dad could see me now” exclaims a revitalized and revolutionized Charlie.

Arguably, Lauper’s biggest hit song in the 1980’s was “Girls Just Want To Have Fun!” With Kinky Boots, Lauper’s lyrics continue to shower everyone with her inspired elation. The dazzling, eye-popping, costume design from Gregg Barnes (the night I attended, the audience actually collectively gasped at the unveiling of the final pair of sparkling, silver heeled boots) impressive scenic design from David Rockwell, and Jerry Mitchell’s Tony Award-winning choreography, demonstrated by a cast of 33, stretched from catwalk to conveyer belts, Boots is a back flipping, side splitting, giggle inducing, cart-wheeling,  great night out for all!  From the floors of a factory warehouse to the glamorous catwalks of Milan, Kinky Boots is a winning recipe from start to finish! Returning to the city that helped launched its colossal stiletto success, Kinky Boots is, to put it simply, must see late-summer fare!

Broadway in Chicago’s Kinky Boots is now playing through September 4, 2016 at the Oriental Theatre.

Out of Town

Stephen S. Best is currently a freelance writer for the Times Square Chronicles, covering the performing arts scene in the greater Chicagoland area. He has been a theater aficionado for years, attending his first live production, Annie, at the tender age of six. After graduating from Purdue University, Stephen honed his skills attending live theater, concerts and art installations in New York and Chicago. Stephen’s keen eye and thorough appreciation for both theater patrons’ time and entertainment dollar makes him a valuable asset and his recommendations key. Stephen currently lives in downtown Chicago.

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