Kinky Boots 2016 National Tour

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Book by Harvey Fierstein.

Music & Lyrics by Cyndi Lauper.

Directed & Choreographed by Jerry Mitchell.

Produced by Daryl Roth and Hal Luftig, et al.

Playing at the Oriental Theatre, Chicago.

A Bit of a Drag.

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After almost four years, Kinky Boots returns for a one-week engagement to Chicago, the home of its pre-Broadway debut. Sporting six sexy Tony Awards, including Best Music and Best Musical, Kinky Boots is, I imagine, sure to delight Cyndi Lauper fans as well as fans of musicals like Hairspray and La Cage aux Folles, two musicals with similar tone and themes. As for the general musical-loving audience, the only reason to see Kinky Boots would be to enjoy J. Harrison Ghee’s impressive performance as the drag queen Lola. Apart from that, a transparently cliché story and a surprisingly forgettable musical score make this underwhelming production eminently skippable.

Set in the working-class town of Northampton, Kinky Boots follows the story of Charlie Price (Adam Kaplan), heir to the Price & Son shoe factory, who, after his father’s sudden death, must find a way to save the family business and find his place in the world. With the help of a drag queen named Lola (J. Harrison Ghee) and her entourage of fellow drag queens, Charlie finds just the right designer and commercial niche to shake things up in the shoe industry — saving both the family business and discovering a lot about himself in the process.

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If it weren’t for the lively and entertaining presence of the drag queens in this show, Kinky Boots would be a tearfully boring, two-hour affair — and every moment without the charismatic J. Harrison Ghee is just that: woefully tedious. Yet even with its racy spice of drag, Kinky Boots feels like a tired story from the early 90s — so much so, in fact, that there’s virtually no time spent establishing the bases of the conflicts that make up the central thrust of the play: it’s practically a bygone assumption that Charlie (and Lola) is on the “young-man’s journey” of finding himself from out of the shadow of his father; and the love-interest subplot, while offering some sweet comedic moments by Tiffany Engen, is confoundingly underdeveloped. In other words, not only is the story hackneyed, it’s not even emotionally compelling.

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As for the music — it must have been a poor year indeed for Cyndi Lauper to win a Tony Award for it. If one can excuse the mawkishly trite lyrics — with their generic, almost childish sentiments, predictable rhymes, and nauseously repetitiously choruses — there is not one song in this whole two-hour production that is either memorable or catchy.  Honestly, even as I look over the lyrics to the songs, I cannot for the life of me remember a single melody.

The other production aspects that often delight in a musical, such as the choreography and the design, are impressive, but still fail to compensate for the other, aforementioned absences. J. Harrison Ghee, to reiterate, steals the whole show as far as performances go, especially with his rapturous rendition of “Hold Me In Your Heart.” Even when he’s not in drag, Ghee’s presence is captivating and his Lola is much more fascinating than the blandly played Charlie Price — whose lack of personality is one of the biggest obstacles in enjoying his story. Also of note, Tiffany Engen, as Charlie’s love-interest Lauren, brings a hysterical sense of humor to her awkward and diffident character, making her solos another pleasurable respite from this otherwise generic musical.

In short, Kinky Boots simply did not give me that overwhelming, enveloping feeling musicals often give you when the story and the music fill the theatre so fully that your imagination, your emotions — your very being — is held captive in awe and wonder. That is not to say others didn’t experience this: there was, after all, a standing ovation on opening night. However, this same audience applauded at the mere presence of men in drag, so . . . if that sounds like you, this musical is for you.

 Somewhat Recommended.

 August Lysy.

Austin.Lysy@gmail.com.

Reviewed on 30 August 2016.

 Playing at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago. Tickets are $25 – $98. For tickets and information, call the Broadway in Chicago Ticket Line at 800-775-2000, or visit any Ticketmaster retail location or BroadwayInChicago.com. Performances are this week only: Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Running time is 2 hours with one, 15-minute intermission.

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