Friday, July 31, 2015

Kreatively Kinky Boots

Cyndi Lauper's musical sashays its way into Minneapolis

Photo courtesy of the Hennepin Theater Trust
With the rise of Caitlin Jenner and passage of landmark LGBT legislation in the last few months, Kinky Boots couldn't be touring at a better cultural moment.

Kinky Boots tells the story of a man named Charlie who takes over the operation of a failing shoe factory after his father, the owner, dies. Charlie is at a loss for ideas to save the factory and the jobs it helps support, until he stumbled into a drag queen club. After learning from Lola, the club's manager, that the women's shoes the Queens purchase aren't sturdy enough to support their male frames, Charlie decides to convert the factory to supply their niche needs.

There are many bumps along the way, but the shoes are a smash hit at a final showing in Milan where international buyers are floored by their unique qualities. The show is slow to start, but if you can make it past the first 20 minutes or so you'll be drawn in by Lola, who changes the shoe factory and Charlie's life for good and provides the moral compass of the show.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theater Trust
There is no doubt that as Lola, Kyle Taylor Parker carries Kinky Boots to its steely stiletto heights. Parker's incredibly flexible voice alternately hits the flexible styles of Mary J. Blige, Lionel Richie, and Cyndi Lauper, and his expressive delivery infuses the music with magic. It's clear too that Parker inspires his fellow Queens, and the energy and cohesive harmonies they bring are keys to making the show click.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theater Trust

Lindsay Nicole Chambers is a cast standout as Lauren, who is hilariously in love with Charlie. Her wholesome portrayal grounds the show and provides an anchor for the rest of the drama to float around. Joe Coots is equally hilarious as the clearly hetero Don, who added a heartwarming element of true change of heart to the show.

The pit was fabulous, and any fans of Stevie Wonder/Daft Punk style bass lines will find themselves grooving in their seats. Sets were minimal, essentially comprising the interior of  the factory, but were fully utilized with interlocking "rooms" changing the audience's perspective. And costumes were drab, with the exception of Lola and her crew, who pranced around in togs worthy of Queen Bey herself.

There are lots of great 'moral moments' in this show, and its message of true acceptance is a timely one. We live in an age of intense political conflict and starkly drawn lines of belief, and we could all use a little more of Lola's favorite challenge: Accept someone for who they truly are. You don't have to like it, or agree with it - but accepting them as a human being worth value and your interest is the least you can do.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theater Trust
My only criticism of the book is that it could learn a little from its own message. Kinky Boots has a more diverse cast than most shows (although that is thankfully changing), but it is certainly true that the diverse members of the cast tend to be pigeonholed into specific kinds of roles (read: gay, drag queens, poor/marginalized members of society, etc. etc. etc.). I don't say this to knock the performance of Lola and her queens - they were fabulous and did an amazing job, and the show wouldn't have been the same without them - but to simply ask, were those the only roles they could have been offered? Why couldn't Charlie, his girlfriend, or a factory worker also been cast with a non-white actor? Food for thought.

Kinky Boots runs at the Orpheum through August 2; to buy tickets, click this link.