Kinky Boots National Tour Review - Heavy on Glitz, Light on Substance

 

Kinky Boots National Touring Company

 

Kinky Boots, the darling of the 2013 Tony awards with six wins including Best Musical, comes to Chicago August 30 – September 4 as part of the show's first national tour. Playing for a limited one-week engagement at the Oriental Theatre, this popular young musical dresses up a classic narrative of a son struggling to live up to his father's legacy in sequins and heels, with mixed success.

 

Kinky Boots National Touring Company

 

Kinky Boots certainly has its appeal. While the first act drags a bit, the second picks up the pace and introduces a secondary storyline that adds interest. Inspired by true events, the musical follows Charlie Price, a young man from Northampton who reluctantly inherits his family's shoe factory and discovers that an unexpected client base might save the business from folding--drag queens. Charlie, though the protagonist, suffers the misfortune of being the least interesting character onstage. Adam Kaplan aims for charm in his portrayal of the show’s central figure, and while he has a few moments of genuine likeability, his acting is not enough to pull the mild-mannered Charlie out of the shadow of other more engaging characters. Kaplan also gives an odd vocal performance, relying rather too heavily on his head voice in the first act of the show before pulling out a show-stopping belt in the second act.

 

Tiffany Engen and Adam Kaplan in the National Tour of Kinky Boots

 

On the other hand, genderfluid drag queen Lola lights up the stage with a strong personality, fabulous wardrobe, and refusal to follow the rules. J. Harrison Ghee brings a natural stage presence and flair for the dramatic to the role that makes him an absolute delight to watch. Lola is really at the heart of the story, and it is slightly disappointing that her own backstory exists mainly to complement and supplement Charlie’s quest to make peace with his father’s memory.

 

J. Harrison Ghee in the National Tour of Kinky Boots

 

Another character who outshines Charlie is factory worker Lauren, whose infatuation with her boss makes her an unexpected favorite after her bizarre and hysterical solo in the middle of the first act. Actor Tiffany Engen commits to her character’s quirkiness with no holds barred, and the results are delightful. Don, another factory worker, foils Lola in his commitment to traditional masculinity, and his journey to acceptance of gender fluidity is surprisingly moving.

 

Tiffany Engen in the National Tour of Kinky Boots

 

Overall, the cast's grasp of the Northampton dialect is weak, and frankly the suspension of disbelief would have been easier without it.

 

Kinky Boots National Touring Company

 

The design for the show is, in true Broadway style, dazzling. Of particular note are the titular kinky boots (designed by Gregg Barnes), whose only flaw might be that they don’t come out in full force until the closing number. Lola’s wardrobe and that of her entourage of drag queens are suitably flashy and unique. Rotating set pieces allow for quick scene changes and a sense of continuity throughout the show.

 

Kinky Boots National Touring Company

 

That the show won a Tony for Best Score is surprising; despite being penned by rock icon Cindy Lauper, the music is adequate but largely unremarkable. The story, too, leaves something to be desired. The plot is predictable and ultimately rather shallow. Underneath the drag queens and fabulous shoes, the story is essentially a cliché narrative of a son struggling to accept his relationship with his father. This is reinforced in a sweet but heavy-handed moment at the end of the show.

 

Kinky Boots National Touring Company

 

In the end, Kinky Boots is neither the best nor the worst show ever to land on a Chicago stage. While it has its charms and its moments of unrestricted fabulousness, all the sequins in the world can’t make its weak writing sparkle.

 

Kinky Boots National Touring Company. All photos by Matthew Murphy

 

Ticket Information

Dates: August 30 – September 4, 2016

Times: Tuesday at 7:30 PM; Wednesday at 2 PM and 7:30 PM; Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday at 7:30 PM; Saturday at 2 PM and 8 PM; Sunday at 2 PM

Tickets: Tickets for Kinky Boots at the Oriental Theatre range from $25-$98. A select number of premium tickets are available for many performances. Group tickets for 10 or more are available by calling Broadway In Chicago Group Sales at (312) 977-1710. Tickets are available at all Broadway In Chicago Box Offices (24 W. Randolph St., 151 W. Randolph St., 18 W.Monroe St. and 175 E. Chestnut), the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775-2000, all Ticketmaster retail locations and online at the Broadway In Chicago website.

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