Review: KINKY BOOTS Tour Makes Triumphant So. Cal. Return to Hollywood's Pantages Theatre

Review: KINKY BOOTS Tour Makes Triumphant So. Cal. Return to Hollywood's Pantages Theatre

Michael L. Quintos

OnStage Los Angeles Critic

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If it was possible to like... or rather, LOOOVE... the Broadway musical 'KINKY BOOTS' even more so than one already does, the lovable, fresh-faced cast of the musical's current first national tour is certainly making a really good case for it.

An all-around spectacular stage show in every sense of the word, the 2013 six-time Tony Award-winning Best Musical's current North American traveling company—now back in Los Angeles for an all-too brief two-week run at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood through April 24—very much lives up to its rousing, crowd-pleasing reputation thrice over. 

Based on the charming 2005 true story-inspired independent film by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth (which also happens to feature early starring roles for actors Joel Edgerton and future Oscar-nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor), the splashier, more colorfully vibrant music-and-dance stage adaptation amplifies the celebration of self-discovery, open-mindedness, and living authentic lives with spectacular costumes by Gregg Barnes, incredible sets by David Rockwell, melodic arrangements and orchestrations by the super-talented Stephen Oremus, and, of course, high-energy, full-out choreography and direction by Jerry Mitchell. 

But perhaps most importantly, the musical comedy's message of tolerance, acceptance, and perseverance is superbly aided by a funny and, yes, even an often touching book by the very witty Harvey Fierstein, and terrific, memorable music and lyrics from legendary pop music superstar Cyndi Lauper. And in a bit of only-in-Hollywood timing, both Fierstein and Lauper happen to have just received (finally!) their stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame this week—just one day before KINKY BOOTS's Los Angeles return, only steps from the entrance of the Pantages Theatre!  

Not too surprisingly, my jaw dropped at just how genuinely enjoyable this show continues to be, and was giddy at how utterly delightful this current touring production is playing out, even compared with my first experiences seeing the show both on Broadway with the original cast and during the initial leg of its tour that made heralded local stops in Southern California. Its recent opening night performance truly deserved every scream and ovation it received.

Much of the kudos, though, for why KINKY BOOTS is still so enjoyable even after almost two years on the road can be attributed to the new tour cast members that are now breathing new life into these roles. It's always fun seeing fresh actors in the roles, who offer new, subtly different interpretations to characters we all think we already know.

For this new go-round, the role of the fabulous Lola—the unapologetically out-and-proud statuesque drag queen that inspires the musical's title and plot—is excellently played by J. Harrison Ghee, a gifted triple-threat actor blessed with sassy comic timing, fearless dance moves (in stilettos, thank you), and a beautiful, richly-layered singing voice that fits his stand out character like a tight, form-fitting gown. 

From Lola's first introduction in the dark (where some homophobes are accosting her outside a club) to her final triumphant bow at Milan Fashion Week, Ghee can morph from sexy and stunning, to hilarious and confident, to visibly shaken and emotionally spent with such remarkable ease and credibility. Even the tone of his singing voice is perfectly matched to the mood of the given moment: he is unbelievably fierce in "Land of Lola" and "The Sex Is In the Heel" and reduces grown folks to tears in the heartbreaking "I'm Not My Father's Son" and the divalicious 11 o'clock Whitney-esque ballad "Hold Me In Your Heart."

Across from Ghee is adorable former Newsie Adam Kaplan, who has traded in his heavy New Yawk accent for a more British one, graduating into the neurotic shoes of Charlie Price—the twenty-something young man who (reluctantly, at first) inherits his family's failing men's shoe factory business that he later tries to turn around by reinventing itself as a boots-for-drag-queens design house (inspired idea, right?!).

Instantly endearing right from his first appearance, Kaplan possesses the discernible vulnerability of a shy, soft-spoken, yet level-headed man aching to let loose while at the same time trying to live up to expected adult responsibilities. With a slight aww shucks squeak of nervousness in his voice and a likable personality beaming from a comforting baby-face, Kaplan channels a much more adorkable nervous-nelly Charlie than prior actors have essayed—who's much more fearful of disappointing his dad and his "family" of factory workers counting on him to save the business. And to top it off, the guy can belt the bejeezus outta the high notes in "Step One" and "Soul of a Man."

Kaplan's perfectly chosen acting nuances are an excellent contrast to Ghee's more assertive, sensually confident delivery—and the pair have an absolutely believable chemistry as impromptu business collaborators and (eventual) best friends who, surprisingly enough, share a fairly similar childhood (sans heels for one of them, of course). After seeing these two outstanding musical theater actors in these lead roles, I can honestly say that they both earn top spots as two of my favorite actors to ever take on the roles of Lola and Charlie, respectively.

Oh, and surprise! There is not a single weak link in the ensemble either. 

Among the cast standouts include hilarious scene-stealer Tiffany Engen as factory worker Lauren, who harbors a secret crush on Charlie; the awesome-voiced Aaron Walpole as über-macho factory worker Don, who taunts and teases the more effeminate Lola; the very funny Jim J. Bullock (TV's Too Close For Comfort) as the excitable George, the factory's semi-sexually ambiguous floor manager; and Charissa Hogeland as Nicola, Charlie's posh girlfriend determined to see Charlie ditch the factory for a more hip life in London. 

And, of course, at the heart of the show are Lola's gorgeous, fashion-forward glamazons she dubs her "Angels"... Joe Beauregard, Joseph Anthony Byrd, Sam Dowling, JP Qualters, Sam Rohloff, and Juan Torres-Falcon, who all vigorously dance and strut up a storm in outfits the Drag Race gals would surely envy.

An overall appealing, smile-inducing show with characters you want to wholeheartedly root for (and everyone gets a nice, tidy-with-a-bow ending), KINKY BOOTS will pretty much win you over, even if you don't necessarily agree with the motivations or ideologies of the characters. A musical ode to living a genuine, "be true to who you are" kind of life, there is lots to truly love about a show that encourages acceptance, reinvention, and diversity. While, sure, this isn't new territory—particularly in the more open-minded realm of Broadway—KINKY BOOTS at least gives it to you with humor, hubris, heart, and lots and lots of sparkle.

Still haven't seen this incredibly entertaining, surprisingly heartwarming show on tour yet? What are you waiting for?

Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ

Photos from the current National Tour Company of KINKY BOOTS by Matthew Murphy. Review originally published for OnStage.


Performances of KINKY BOOTS at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre continue through April 24, 2016 and are scheduled Tuesday through Friday at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm, and Sundays at 1pm and 6:30pm. Tickets can be purchased online at HollywoodPantages.com, by phone at 1-800-982-ARTS(2787) or in person at the Pantages box office (opens daily at 10am) and all Ticketmaster outlets. The Pantages Theatre is located at 6233 Hollywood Boulevard, just east of Vine Street. For more information, please visit HollywoodPantages.com

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