Friday, October 6, 2017

Kinky Boots (NY)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinky_Boots_(musical)
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Charlie Price (Stark Sands) is the reluctant heir of his family's four-generation-old shoe empire, but he has no intention of fulfilling that role. Running away to London with his girlfriend Nicola (Shannon O'Boyle), he is forced to return to Northampton following the sudden death of his father. Clueless on how to save the company from bankruptcy, he follows the advice of assembly line worker Lauren (Delaney Westfall) who suggests finding a niche market that can save them from closing down. One night he finds inspiration when he crosses paths with Lola (Billy Porter), a fierce and brutally frank drag queen headlining his own show in a London cabaret. Noticing that the boots they wear for the show can't possibly support a man's weight, Charlie heads back to the factory and gives his 100% in developing a line of kinky boots for men, even bringing Lola in as head designer. The move casts a doubt on his competence to lead and is met with ridicule from all sides. Will his efforts be enough to rescue the struggling family business?

My favorite scene would have to be that part on the treadmill. They are not treadmills per se but those slide thingies utilized at assembly lines to streamline the manufacturing process. In any case, such a physically challenging stunt is not new. Matilda also has a lot of that going on. Perhaps the difference is that timing is really essential for this particular scene. Otherwise, the actors would easily slip and injure themselves. The good thing is nothing like that happened, which means the cast deserves a big kudos for a job well done. You will still probably remember it randomly days after you've seen the show.

Well, we have to give it to Lola and her Angels. Those ladies are so fierce and the crowd just adores them, going wild whenever they make their fabulous entrance onstage. It does make you wonder if they are indeed drag queens in real life or are they theater actors who were trained to take on such roles? They are so legit that they give you this feeling as though you've been transported to a cabaret show somewhere in Broadway. There will always be plenty of applause reserved for triple threats onstage wearing any kind of challenging footwear and strutting their stuff while in it. The endurance. The stamina. The talent. Not everyone has what it takes to pull off such an act.

Porter won a Tony for his portrayal as Lola and it's not hard to see why. As a character, Lola is the epitome of liberation, and her mere presence onstage exudes a certain flair, a positive be-yourself mantra that is as contagious as it is electrifying. Even so, when he comes to the office as Simon, you realize that despite the self-assurance that he displays as Lola, deep inside he is still suffering from an identity crisis silently tearing him apart. Fabulous but flawed, the latter is what makes Lola like us despite the superhuman singing and dancing capabilities that he demonstrates.

Sands as Charlie holds his own but is upstaged by Porter most of the time. This has nothing to do with the actors, but rather the very persona of the characters they are portraying. We might all agree that Charlie is the boring and ordinary one, but he is also our connection to the world of Kinky Boots. Not all of us can be drag queens, but at one point in our lives we were all our father's disappointment one way or another. This recurring theme is prevalent in both Charlie's and Lola's subplots. The difference is that Charlie does not headline a cabaret show as an outlet for all those pent-up emotions. He deals with it just like most of us do, either by sulking or getting a little help from friends.

There is that one scene where adult Charlie and Lola are seen together with their younger selves, younger selves who run to their respective dads ending up in an embrace. After all the musical distractions, it all goes back to that central theme of validation and how it means a lot when it comes from the ones who really matter to you. That has to be the emotional highlight of the show. Even if it pales in comparison to the other song and dance numbers in terms of glitter and glamour, it's simply as raw as raw emotion can be. That's what makes Kinky Boots a real treat. It's a fab comedy, with a heart.


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