Touring production of Broadway hit has trouble finding its footing

Early in the stage musical Kinky Boots, drag queen Lola ruefully looks at the broken heel of her stiletto and says, "Expensive boots. Cheaply made."

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/04/2019 (1266 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Early in the stage musical Kinky Boots, drag queen Lola ruefully looks at the broken heel of her stiletto and says, “Expensive boots. Cheaply made.”

Theatre review

Kinky Boots

Centennial Concert Hall

To April 21

Tickets $55.75 to $136.50 at centennialconcerthall.com

★★★ out of ★★★★★

Unfortunately, that’s an accurate description of this touring production of the Broadway hit based on the 2005 film. Almost everything about this non-Equity production feels cut-rate underneath the feel-good gloss, from the wonky sound mix to the utilitarian set to the lighting that frequently misses its mark.

The story follows Charlie Price (Connor Allston), who reluctantly takes over his late father’s foundering shoe factory in Northampton, U.K. (not least among the production’s flaws is the fact that almost none of the actors sound as if they’ve even sipped English Breakfast tea, let alone set foot in a working-class British town).

When the Angels and the factory's assembly line are incorporated into the choreography, Kinky Boots takes a step in the right direction. (Matthew Murphy)
No one’s buying the company’s sensible brogues and it looks as if Price & Son will have to close its doors, until Charlie, inspired by a chance meeting with Lola (Kenneth Mosley), has the idea to shift the factory’s focus to making women’s boots designed to hold a man’s weight.

The cast has big boots to fill (original Lola Billy Porter won a Tony for his portrayal; Stark Sands was nominated for playing Charlie) and they are not entirely up to the task.

Mosley looks great and has a lovely voice, handling the raunchier numbers with requisite grit, and giving the ballads Not My Father’s Son and Hold Me in Your Heart an aching sweetness, but his dancing is tentative — especially when surrounded by his posse of Angels, alarmingly fierce drag queens — and he’s too small for the role; when she puts on her six-inch heels, Lola should be a towering presence.

Kenneth Mosley in the National Tour of Kinky Boots. (Photo: Matthew Murphy)
Allston is solid but bland, though that’s partially down to the one-dimensional character. The supporting cast’s widely varied abilities — some are decent singers but stiff dancers, some are shrill vocalists, others are just forgettable — provide some cringe-worthy moments.

Karis Gallant gives the character of Charlie’s love interest, Lauren, a goofy, Kristen Bell-channelling charm that’s defiantly weird but delivers laughs, while James Fairchild, as factory bully Don, has an accent that’s all over the map but proves a good foil for Lola.

The book by Harvey Fierstein puts a bigger emphasis on Charlie and Lola’s daddy issues than the film, which focused more on the save-the-factory aspect of the story. It’s not a bad instinct — it’s tough to write stirring songs about economic decline or outsourcing labour — but it needs to be fleshed out further for audiences to empathize. Their fraught paternal relationships are spelled out in expository “tell, don’t show” fashion.

The character of Charlie Price (Connor Allston) could use a little more flash. (Matthew Murphy)
What works better is the developing relationship between the two men: Mosley and Allston show their characters’ journey from self-interested business partnership into hesitant friendship in way that feels real.

The songs, music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, are tuneful toe-tappers if not timeless classics (one might expect more saucy double-entendres in lyrics about drag queens). The heartfelt ballads strike an emotional chord, and when she channels her ’80s heyday, as in Lauren’s synthy solo The History of Wrong Guys, it’s a real kick.

What should be her razzle-dazzle numbers aren’t as strong, but that hardly matters when the six Angels are onstage, putting the sex in sextet (the Act 1 finale, Everybody Say Yeah, when the factory’s assembly line is cleverly incorporated into the choreography, is a showstopper owing to their athletic grace, not the song).

Angels Jordan Archibald, Derek Brazeau (a standout), Ryan Michael James, Andrew Norlen, Jacob Paulson and Ernest Terrelle Williams bring new life to the tired phrase “strutting their stuff,” with confident performances that are the main reason to see this show. Every time they’re onstage, the production walks a little taller.

Karis Gallant injects some fun charm into Lauren, Charlie's love interest. (Matthew Murphy)

jill.wilson@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @dedaumier

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Jill Wilson

Jill Wilson
Senior copy editor

Jill Wilson writes about culture and the culinary arts for the Arts & Life section.

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