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Theater Review: Gender-Bending And Playfully Staged, 'Kinky Boots' Is A Joy To Watch

California Musical Theater / Courtesy
 

California Musical Theater / Courtesy

Successful new musicals nowadays are very often concoctions – carefully designed cocktails, blending storylines and situations that feel familiar. “Kinky Boots” is no exception. The opening scenes, set in a nearly bankrupt shoe factory in the north of England, resemble shows like “Billy Elliot” and “The Full Monty.” The upbeat, feel-good finale recalls “Hairspray.” And the show’s effervescent lead character – an imposingly tall drag queen who's taken the name Lola, parading through life in outrageously provocative outfits – is patterned after any number of similar roles. Lola’s first appearance onstage is akin to the arrival of Cleopatra – and the audience hoots with delight.

The party atmosphere continues when Lola turns to the audience like a latter day Oscar Wilde, and addresses them by gender, saying “Ladies… and gentlemen… and those who have yet to make up their minds.” And some people in the audience shout back.

But Lola can also be pretty convincing when she dials down the flamboyance and indulges in a moment of reflection, singing “maybe I went to extremes of leather and lace,” and alienated her father in the process.

Kinky Boots _15_020217P

California Musical Theater / Courtesy

Holding this extravaganza together is a wisp of a story involving the unlikely partnership between Lola and the straight young owner of the failing shoe factory, who decides to try manufacturing bright red high-heeled boots. Will the new boots be a hit? Will the factory be saved? Will the scruffy workers keep their jobs? Do you need to ask?

But even though this story is largely built out of recycled goods, I’m inclined to be lenient. Many of the scenes are visually inventive, Cyndi Lauper’s score is infectious, and many of the actors give earnest performances that stand taller than Harvey Fierstein’s script. It’s easy to enjoy this friendly, audacious show… and everybody loves a feel-good ending. It’s a pleasant outing for a wet, dreary winter evening, and you’ll go home wearing a smile.


“Kinky Boots” plays through Sunday at the Sacramento Community Center Theater

Jeff Hudson

Contributing Arts Reporter and Theatre Critic

Jeff Hudson has been contributing arts-related stories to Capital Public Radio since 1995, with an emphasis on theater and classical music. He attends over 100 performances annually, ranging from modern musicals to medieval masses.   Read Full Bio 

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