• TheShowReport

REVIEW: "Kinky Boots" — 3-D Theatricals at Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts

Updated: Jun 12

“Hand me glitter, feathers and a hot glue gun and I can make the world a pretty place." - Lola


3-D Theatricals, in a West Coast Regional Premiere, presents the second offering of their 2019/20 season — “Kinky Boots,” the ultra-popular Broadway musical with music and lyrics by 80’s idol Cyndi Lauper and book by four-time Tony winner Harvey Fierstein, now playing at Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts in Cerritos through March 1st.


In this heartwarming tale that champions the value of accepting others as they are, the show somehow manages to still be sexy, soul-filled and even a little shocking, thanks mainly to the infectious songs by pop icon Cyndi Lauper, who has revolutionized the role of women in rock ‘n roll with such career-making hits as “Time After Time,” “She Bop,” and “Change of Heart.”


It doesn’t hurt, though, to have a half-dozen dolled-up drag queens on board, led by one of Broadway’s biggest divas (which, as you may have guessed, is actually a man).


Originally directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell (“The Full Monty”), and based on the Miramar motion picture, “Kinky Boots,” written by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth, the show stars Lukas Poost (Natl Tour: “Shrek the Musical;” Off-Broadway: “Black Hole Wedding”) as Charlie Price and Cornelius Jones, Jr. (Broadway: “The Lion King;” 3-D: “Shrek”) as the irrepressible Lola. Mr. Jones, Jr. replaces “RuPaul’s Drag Race” star, Todrick Hall, withdrawing from the production due to a scheduling conflict.


Following the show's conception in 2006, years passed before it made its Broadway debut at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, April, 2013, followed by a 2014 tour which ended five years later. The production earned a season-high 13 nominations and 6 Tony wins, including Best Musical, Best Actor for Billy Porter, and Best Score for Lauper in her first outing as a Broadway songwriter.


The musical is mostly inspired by true events with a design on finding your passion in life, overcoming prejudice and transcending stereotypes. In this case, the character in need of the most empyral direction is Charlie (Mr. Poost), an heir to a venerable, money-hemorrhaging shoe factory in Northampton, who longs to escape the provinces and join upwardly striving London with his status-conscious fiancée, Nicola (Dayna Sauble).


Charlie, who sees sales plummeting, is now beyond desperation for a miracle to save his struggling factory, and, on a fluke while in London, has a back-stage chance encounter with an unforgettably, flamboyant cabaret performer and drag queen named Lola, forming a quirky alliance that just might end up saving Charlie's business. It’s Lola, actually, who makes Charlie realize that there’s an untapped, overlooked niche in the shoe market: cross-dressers who need well-made footwear.


Drag queens? Why not? Because, after all, tall, well-muscled men would require a sturdier boot than the fairer sex, and the last thing you want when you’re vamping on stage is a broken heel.


As different as they appear to be, the pair finds common ground that helps them forge a strong partnership, changing not only each other's minds but those around them.


Accompanying them into this uncharted territory are: George (Jeff Skowron), the traditionalist factory manager and Lauren (Emily Goglia), a pretty working class girl who develops a scorching crush on Charlie. Ms. Goglia, in particular, excels greatly in her “The History of Wrong Guys,” both in vocal power and antic acting…one of the funniest scenes in the show.


There is also Don (Javier Garcia), a burly factory worker who becomes Lola's nemesis; and the Angels (Eric Stanton Betts, Jake DuPree - Dance Captain, Callum Gugger, Gerry Kenneth, Christopher Mosley and Rodrigo Varandas, who also plays the Announcer), Lola's sorority backup drag performers who elevate the flair quotient and act as a Greek chorus (à la “La Cage aux Folles”).


The plan is to debut the new line of Kinky Boots at a runway shoe show in Milan, but time is ticking and only one lady can help save the failing factory: Lola, of course. While she can’t resist the opportunity to become a designer, the working-class town of Northampton promises to be stifling for someone who lives her life outside gender norms.


When the hardened factory workers finally run up against the sequined sassiness of the Angels — those six, unabashed drag queens who defy the word limber, and also seem to defy biology when they do the splits (yikes) — “Kinky Boots” starts to feel a little like “Billy Elliot” meets “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” While that sounds like a strange amalgam, it actually works, thanks to the tender touch of Fierstein’s narrative, best known for co-penning Broadway’s biggest gender-bending shows like “Newsies” and “Torch Song Trilogy.”


And you can’t say Cyndi Lauper doesn’t know how to work a crowd. This storied singer has created a heat-seeking score that performs like a pop star who just hit #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Try to resist if you must. But for this tale of lost souls in the shoe business, you might as well just give it up to the audience-hugging charisma of her songs. Each is a shameless emotional button pusher, presided over by a strong, spirited drag queen who dispenses life lessons like an automated fortune cookie. The result is sincerity, contrasted with defiant quirkiness, mingled in a trademark Lauper mix of bubblegum and eccentricity.


The production reaches its high point late in the first-act, in which shoe folk meet show folk on Milan’s fashion runway. And when Lola and her Angels give Charlie and company a lesson in boot aesthetics, via a sizzling, well-choreographed number called "Sex Is in the Heel," it becomes the mantra and pulse of Lola and her Angels.


Mr. Jones, Jr.’s role is the human equivalent of those boots, but he gives Lola enough snap and sinew to make her more than just another glamazon with biceps. With Linda Love Simmons’ choreography and Benet Braun music direction, "Kinky Boots" comes to life, but its Lola that brings the heat. When Mr. Jones, Jr. is onstage, his magnetism makes it impossible to take your eyes off of him, confidently balancing atop thigh-high, shiny red lace-up boots with stiletto heels and infusing a swagger that has understated confidence.


Conversely, when he is not in a scene, a little air goes out of the room. He gives a fully realized portrayal, but especially shines in two numbers: the boxing arena ("In This Corner"), and when powerfully delivering his eleven o'clock number ("Hold Me in Your Heart").


Mr. Poost, in turn, is terrific, finding strains of rock ’n’ roll agony in a tabula rasa part. Charlie is a sympathetic character with an easygoing manner that prevents him from crossing into unfavorable territory. He’s just out of university when we meet him, with no clue of his future. Handsome, lovable, and just a bit henpecked, and perhaps a bit lost, Charlie is at his best when he is relating with other characters.


He rises in contrast to his girlfriend, Nicola (Ms. Sauble), shares a burgeoning chemistry with Lauren (Ms. Goglia), shows his strengths and weaknesses with his employees, and begins to understand and accept his shortcomings through his bonding with Lola. But his pop rock style voice is nothing less than exquisite. “The Soul of a Man” sends chills through the audience in a supreme rendering.


Featuring David Rockwell's original set design, the stage morphs from a working factory with moving conveyor belts (put to very effective use in "Everybody Say Yeah" at the end of the first act) to a London nightclub seamlessly, aided by Jean-Yves Tessier's evocative lighting design. Strong contributions to the overall look are made by Denice Paxton (make-up design). And although the volume is pumped for the musical numbers, sound designer John Shivers succeeds in balancing the vocals perfectly with the orchestra, exacerbated by some slight British accents.


The show gentrifies its first-act zip and zeal with the churchy "Raise You Up" leading into a power-packed "Just Be" with its messages of self-acceptance and empowerment ("Never let 'em tell you who you ought to be/ Just be/ With dignity/ Celebrate yourself triumphantly"). It's a ready-made anthem for anyone who's been shut out or stifled, making it one of the best curtain numbers since Hairspray’s "You Can't Stop the Beat" sent audiences dancing out of the theater. And this upbeat finale will send you dancing into the spring night as well, regardless of what you're wearing on your feet.


“Kinky Boots” — A show about drag queens with high spirits and even higher stiletto-heeled footwear. It’s a definite crowd pleaser, flashy on the surface, yet contains a warm, sentimental center with genuine relationships built between credible characters. You'll go for the music, the costumes and the glitter, but you'll end up being moved by the story.


So dig in your heels and accept it for its open-hearted, inclusive, life-affirming, frequent feel-good bursts of joy (and occasional searing catharses), and you'll find its true colors shining through, showcasing two men struggling with the exact same issue — a desperate longing to be accepted by their fathers. This acceptance is painful to witness as Charlie and Lola sing the show’s most moving song, “I’m Not My Father’s Son,” bonding in their grief of being disappointments to their fathers, but not to themselves.


Directed by John Tartaglia (“Avenue Q”) and stage managed by Vernon Willet, the cast additionally includes Candice Rochelle Berge (Pat), Myles A. Carr (Young Lola), Zach Fogel (Richard Bailey), Matthew Carl Garcia (Young Charlie), Cameron Gilliam (Harry), Ceron Jones (Simon Sr.), Candi Milo (Trish), Guy Noland (Mr. Price/Fight Captain) with ensemble members Sia Arvinger, Chris Bey, Chris Bona, and Molly Stilliens.


3-D Theatricals, presenting the musical, ”Kinky Boots,” at the elegant Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts in Cerritos through March 1st. Performances are Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, with an additional performance on Thursday, February 27th at 7:30pm. For tickets and reservations, please see www.3dtshows.org, or call 562-916-8500.


Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report


8.75/10

Photo Credits: Caught In The Moment Photography

 © 2020 by KDaniels 

Chris Daniels, Arts Reviewer

The Show Report