REVIEW: "KINKY BOOTS" — Hollywood Bowl

Wayne Brady’s Lola Kicks it Thigh High in the Bowl’s Kinky Boots!


Cyndi Lauper really knows how to work a crowd. Making her Broadway debut as a composer with “Kinky Boots,” this storied singer has created a heat-seeking score that performs like a pop star at a house party. Try to resist if you must. But for at least the first act of this tale of struggling cordwainers, you might as well just give it up to the audience-hugging charisma of her songs.


“Kinky Boots,” with a book by Harvey Fierstein (“La Cage aux Folles,” “Hairspray”) and directed by Jerry Mitchell (“Legally Blonde, The Musical”), is a show that comes rushing at you head-on — a shameless emotional button pusher, presided over by a strong and sassy drag queen who dispenses life lessons like an automated fortune cookie. And like “Hairspray,” the musical this production most resembles in tone, “Kinky Boots” is about finding your passion, overcoming prejudice and transcending stereotypes.


In this case, the character in need of spiritual direction is Charlie Price (Jake Shears), 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 (Hayley Orrantia).

But when the senior Price (Brian Cali) dies, Charlie is forced to reinvent the business, its product and himself. His guide in this transformation? Lola (the unequalled Wayne Brady, best known from Drew Carry’s “Whose Line is it Anyway” and as host of TV’s “Let’s Make a Deal”), a strapping drag performer that Charlie meets by chance. After seeing her perform, he decides to convert his business into a niche-market bootery for cross-dressers and dominatrixes, with Lola as design consultant.


But don’t over ponder the business logistics of this idea, because you won’t have time. Within short order you’re confronted with a dialectic that could only happen in a musical: provincial conservatives (that’s Charlie and his employees) meet their antithesis, a troupe of flamboyant drag queens (that’s Lola and her backup girls, the Angels). And the synthesis? Liberation and justice for all, along with the realization that though you can’t judge a book by its cover, a cover with sequins and feathers is usually better than a plain one.


Mr. Brady’s Lola, flamboyantly confrontational but tenderhearted under her brass, embodies a cross-dressing archetype that is sashaying ever closer to the center stage of pop mythology. And in a flouting of taboos, the preening cross-dresser goes one better. Her battle cry, "I'm more man than you'll ever be, and more woman than you'll ever get," is meant to partially intimidate the hearts of her male opposition, but more so to pluck up her own courage and determination.


The production reaches its high point in two late first-act numbers, in which shoe folk meet show folk. (David Rockwell is the designer of the charming storybook set.) Lola and her Angels give Charlie and company a lesson in aesthetics, via a song with brisk and nifty lyrics called “Sex is in the Heel.” It’s the mounting pulse of Ms. Lauper’s music and Mr. Mitchell’s wittily illustrative choreography that sends the number soaring. Then the production improbably tops itself with a first-act closer that makes inspired use of an assembly-line belt and introduces the title characters (“Everybody say Yeah!”).



Yes, I mean the boots, which are big red scene stealers. Mr. Brady’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, capturing the fierce drag queen persona of Lola with style and alacrity. Every musical number in which Lola is featured pops off of the stage, starting with “Land of Lola,” which introduces the audience to the glittery world of high heels and high camp.


Jake Shears is also terrific, finding strains of rock ’n’ roll agony in a tabula rasa part. As the reluctant shoe factory owner, Mr. Shears offers a great contrast to Mr. Brady’s out-there drag performer with his light and supple singing voice. The unlikely pair find they share something in common — growing up with demanding fathers. Their individual father-son relationship is poignantly covered in the song “Not My Father’s Son,” one of the lyrical gems among Lauper’s Tony Award-winning score.


And Kelly Marie Tran as Lauren, the factory girl who falls for the boss, not only has a palpable onstage chemistry with Charlie, she creates a completely believable character portrait, which might even charmingly suggest an earthy variation of Ms. Lauper. In a precipitous funny bit, Ms. Tran cracks up the audience with her zany solo spot on the “History of Wrong Guys.”



While it may seem unlikely, Kinky Boots actually takes its inspiration from real events. The original 2005 movie was based upon the story of family-run British shoe factory W.J. Brooks Ltd, who kept their business running by branching out into fetish footwear in the 1990s.


Director and choreographer Mitchell’s cinema-inspired staging smoothly transitions from intimate scenes to big production numbers, such as the act one finale and “In This Corner,” where Lola proves that inside every drag queen is a manly man just waiting for the right time to enter. Mr. Brady, Mr. Shears, Ms. Tran and the entire cast work their magic in the big-hearted, boot-wearing finale, “Raise You Up/Just Be,” which is one of the best closing numbers of any Broadway musical in the last decade. “Change the world when you change your mind” are words to live by for any human being seeking to be a tolerant and accepting person. And lord knows, the entire world could use more of these qualities today.


“Kinky Boots,” the winner of six 2013 Tony® Awards including Best Musical, is the exhilarating Broadway hit that lifts spirits to new high-heeled heights with its Tony-winning music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, uplifting book by four-time Tony winner Harvey Fierstein, and direction and Tony-winning choreography by original director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell. The conductor and musical director is two-time Tony and Grammy® winner Stephen Oremus, the original music supervisor, arranger and orchestrator of Kinky Boots, for which he won the Tony for Best Orchestrations. “Kinky Boots” also won the Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album.



Starring: Wayne Brady in the role of Lola, Jake Shears as Charlie, and Kelly Marie Tran as Lauren.

Additional cast members include: Mark Ballas of Dancing With The Stars in the role of “Harry;” Hairspray Tony® Award winner Marissa Jaret Winokur in the role of “Pat;” Hayley Orrantia, joining the production as “Nicola” on the heels of her appearance on The Masked Singer and a season 10 renewal of The Goldbergs; actor/singer/songwriter Drew Seeley of “Another Cinderella Story” and “High School Musical” fame as a member of the Male Ensemble; television favorite Jim J. Bullock reprising the role of “George” from the Kinky Boots’ first national tour; original Kinky Boots Broadway cast member Daniel Stewart Sherman reprising his role of “Don;” original Kinky Boots Broadway cast member Jennifer Perry reprising her role of “Trish;” Patrick Scott McDermott, fresh from the Lincoln Center production of “Flying Over Sunset,” as “Young Charlie;” Walter Russell III, who comes to the Hollywood Bowl direct from Broadway’s “MJ” where he is appearing as “Young Michael Jackson,” as “Young Lola;” James Olivas as “Richard Bailey;” Brian Cali as “Mr. Price;” and Terron Brooks as “Simon Sr.”

The Hollywood Bowl’s production of “Kinky Boots” also features Ernest T. Williams, Tyler Keller, Matthew Varvar, Eric Stanton Betts, Tommy Martinez, Juan Torres-Falcón, Yurel Echezarreta and Jake Dupree as “The Angels;” Jon Robert Hall and Desmond Newson as the Male Ensemble; and Kim Steele, Ashley Moniz, Joanne Javien, Morgan Anita Wood and Mia Gerachis as the Female Ensemble.

Kinky Boots will be the 21st annual LA Phil/Hollywood Bowl-produced, fully staged Broadway musical to be presented at the historic venue. Performance times for “Kinky Boots” are Friday, July 8, at 8 p.m., Saturday, July 9, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, July 10, at 7:30 p.m. Subscriptions for the Hollywood Bowl’s 2022 summer season are available at hollywoodbowl.com or via phone order at 323 850 2000; single tickets are available in person and online at the Hollywood Bowl Box Office and at hollywoodbowl.com.



Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report