Everybody’s talking about ‘Kinky Boots’

by MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

There was a buzz even before the musical “Kinky Boots” arrived at The Bushnell in Hartford June 23.

A week or so before it opened, The Bushnell powers-that-be informed members of the press that they had run out of press passes to review the opening night performance.

Frankly, I have never received such a notice from The Bushnell in the past several years of reviewing the show. So clearly there was something going on Hartford.

And even before the curtain rose on Tuesday, you could tell something was special this night. The parking lot was full. The box office was jammed. And the tiny café inside the theater had a line that wound its way toward the ticket line.

People were clearly eager to catch the show. And inside, there wasn’t an open seat in the orchestra section. (I couldn’t see the balcony from my vantage, but given the wave of people stepping down the stairs at intermission, the balconies were hardly a cavern of emptiness.)

Okay, okay, I know a full house doesn’t necessarily mean a great performance.

But I can unequivocally say the buzz about the show by Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein (Book) and Grammy-winning rock icon Cyndi Lauper (Tony winner for Best Score), was well-deserved.

The show is fun, first of all. It’s energetic. The songs are catchy. Plus, the story has a noble message about acceptance, which avoids being too simple or too preachy.

The show, for those unfamiliar with it, is about a shoe factory in Northampton, U.K. With cheaper shoes being made elsewhere, the factory is in danger of going under unless a change comes about. That change arrives in the form of Lola, a drag queen, who inspires the factory’s owner Charlie to take on a new venture… high heel boots that could withstand the weight of a male drag performer. With Lola’s help, “Kinky Boots” become the latest product from this centuries old factory.

The biggest delight of the evening is, indeed, Lola—performed by Kyle Taylor Parker, who was part of the original Broadway show. The character is designed to be the centerpiece of the story. This means the performer has to grab the audience’s attention and keep it. Parker does this with great aplomb. First of all, Parker is an astounding singer. Whether he’s being saucy in “Sexy Is in The Heel” or “Land of Lola” or tender in “Not My Father’s Son” (his duet with Charlie, played by Steven Booth) or in “Hold Me In Your Heart,” a showcase belter worthy of the great female soul singers such as Dionne Warwick or Aretha Franklin.

Besides his musical talent, Parker’s acting skills helps the audience really like Lola. We root for the character as he tries to save the factory and to prove his own worth to the bigoted factory workers.

And this is where the message comes in. Lola doesn’t win acceptance simply because the workers accept a “type.” It’s not about accepting someone who is gay. Instead, Lola wins over the bigots through the strength of his character, which shows a good man is a good man– no matter who he sleeps with. (How appropriate that the Supreme Court cleared gay marriage across the country at the same time “Kinky Boots” arrives in Hartford.)

Another highlight of the show is the choreography by Jerry Mitchell. Although, it’s clear that not every actor on stage is a classically trained dancer, the ensemble numbers work because they are so exuberant, buoyant, and simply fun.

One of the best numbers is “Everybody Say Yeah.” It’s a number that’s typical of “Kinky Boots” because not only does it entertain—I loved the way the factory treadmills were used– but the number helps advance the story.

Speaking of choreography, one of the highlights of the cast are the “Angels,” the drag queens that accompany Lola and are introduced to illustrate the “niche market” for “Kinky Boots.” Every time they stepped out onto the stage, the additional excitement rippling across the audience was palpable. So, our hat’s off to Joe Beauregard, Darius Harper, Tommy Martinez, Ricky Schroeder, Juan Torres-Falcon, and Hernando Umana for a job well done. They all showed immense skill in not only keeping the audience entertained, but dancing in stilettos as well.

From top to bottom, “Kinky Boots” gave the audience what it sought. A good time and a fabulous night on the town.

I give “Kinky Boots,” 3 ½ out of 4 stars.

The show continues today Saturday, at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 and 7 p.m. at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. For tickets, go to Bushnell.orgKinkyBoots_KinkyBootsTour_PhotobyMatthewMurphy_Photo3

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