Kinky Boots closes out Starlight season

Kinky Boots strutted its way across Starlight Theatre’s stage last weekend, ending another great season of both local and touring productions.

The hit Broadway musical, featuring music by 80’s icon Cyndi Lauper, is a study in juxtapositions. Nothing in the story is without its foil. The conservative-minded employees at a down-on-its-luck shoe factory play off a group of larger-than-life London drag queens. The status hungry Londoner plays off the small town girl next door.

It is fun to see these stories play out, but the show is best when it ditches the didactic tendencies and revels in the fun, campy atmosphere which Lauper’s music facilitates so well.

Despite the emphasis on delivering a nicely packaged moral lesson, the show avoids turning its drag queens into tropes in the vein of To Wong Fu or Priscilla Queen of the Dessert. Still, Kinky Boots is at its best when it is at its gayest.

Lola (Jos. N. Banks) and her ragtag group of drag queens steal the show. (Source: Starlight Theatre).

Lola (Jos. N. Banks) and her ragtag group of drag queens steal the show.
(Source: Starlight Theatre).

The story opens with Charlie (Lance Bordelon) packing up and ditching his small town roots. He heads from Northampton, where his father owns and operates a shoe factory, to London.

Both Charlie and his fiancé, Nicola (Hayley Lampart), have their eyes set on climbing the corporate ladder. When Charlie gets a call that his father died, leaving him in charge of the factory, he heads back to Northampton. Upon returning, he discovers the company is heading towards disaster.

While all this exposition is necessary, even Lauper’s catchy songwriting fails to make it interesting. Right around the time you start wondering what you got yourself into, Lola (Jos. N. Banks) comes along and introduces herself with a show-stopping number.

Lola and her crew of drag queens, the Angels, are a constant high point. They sing, dance and saunter across the stage in rousing numbers that illicit hollers and cheers from the audience. Banks does a fantastic job at capturing the sense of irreverence critical to any drag performance, while all the queens serve over the top fabulousness that is hard not to love.

When Charlie has an encounter with Lola, he decides to save the factory by making women’s shoes for men’s feet. Every company that survives, a friend tells him, does so by finding a niche market. Enter Lola and the Angels, who pack up and head to Northampton to help Charlie and his crew prepare for the upcoming world shoe show.

The contrast between Lola, the Angels and the crew of the shoe factory is the whole point of the show.

After Lola made her entrance, I found myself wondering whether Kinky Boots takes this juxtaposition a bit too far. It isn’t until the end of the first act, when we learn that factory worker Lauren (Syndey Patrick) is in love with Charlie, that the Northampton characters do anything particularly entertaining.

There are times when you could feel the audience brace themselves for another ballad from Charlie. Bordelon does his best with what he’s given, but even soaring vocals and three key changes are no match for the Angel’s conveyor belt fashion show.

The show seems torn between over the top, irreverent extravaganza (songs like “Land of Lola” or “Sex in in the Heel”) and emotional revelations (“Not My Father’s Son” or “Soul of a Man”). Rather than playing off each other, however, the show-stopping drag numbers overpower the more emotionally centered plot points. The result is not a bad show, but a show that constantly oscillates between high and low energy.

The factory is supposed to be a little boring until Lola and the Angels shake it up, but it should still be compelling.

Lola doesn’t just save the factory, she saves the entire production.

Despite occasionally taking its moral message too seriously and getting bogged down in its attempt to promote acceptance, a ticket to Kinky Boots is well worth the cost of admission.

sd6w8@mail.umkc.edu

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