Don't be fooled by the title. While Kinky Boots might sound a little...well...kinky, the show is really a touching story about two unlikely friends who team up to help save a failing business and, along the way, come to terms with each other's complicated relationship with their fathers. Told through the book by Harvey Fierstein and tuneful score by Cyndi Lauper, it celebrates the importance of living one's truth, and how "you can change the world when you change your mind."
The multiple Tony-award-winning show is based on the British film Kinky Boots (not a musical), which has its roots in actual events. Charlie is the heir apparent to Price & Son Shoe Factory in Northampton, a legacy he hopes to avoid, as evidenced by his decision to move to London and go into real estate. After the unexpected death of his father, Charlie finds himself reluctantly in charge of the factory. He struggles to keep the failing business afloat and the factory workers, many of whom are longtime friends, employed. By chance, Charlie encounters Lola, a drag queen who performs in a London club and is in need of some sturdy heels. Lola hatches an idea: instead of making "a range of footwear for men" the factory should make "footwear for a range of men" and joins Charlie as his business partner. The duo embark on a journey to save Price & Son and soon find themselves simultaneously on a path of self-discovery and friendship.
The production opens with a peek into Charlie and Lola's (then as a young boy named Simon) past and their early relationships with their fathers. Years later, we see an adult Charlie (Ryan Croke) as his plans to embark on his new life are upended. Along the way, we meet a talented ensemble and a bevy of other characters including Charlie's skeptical and self-absorbed fiancée Nicola (Emily Wheeler), a factory worker with a secret crush, Lauren (played by Erica Metzger...who turns in a very comical performance of "The History of Wrong Guys") and crusty, prejudiced employee Don (John O'Connor) who eventually learns to accept what he previously could not understand when his ideas about what it means to be a man are challenged. The show then bursts to life when we next meet Lola (Reggie Guyton) and the high-stepping and athletic Angels (Jeremiah Brown, Tim Connor, Cassie Crawford and Jaden Saunders). With a gift for sassy quips, affinity for design, and sequined star-power, Lola sashays into everyone's life and they are never the same.
Ryan Croke is an earnest and endearing Charlie, struggling to live up to the memory of his well-respected father and feeling like a failure after having to hand out pink slips to some of his workers. Croke's vocals were a bit strained on opening night, perhaps afflicted like so many others with any range of respiratory ailments circulating right now (writer slowly raises a sympathetic hand) but he was heartfelt and effective, nonetheless.
As Lola/Simon, Reggie Guyton is superb. Every pose, every gesture, every line delivery is deliberate and refined. The scars of Simon's painful upbringing live just under the glittering surface of a confident Lola and Guyton conveys this subtle truth expertly. This is on full display during his moving, 11th-hour number "Hold Me In Your Heart." Both Croke and Guyton shine in what I feel is the most poignant moment of the show, "Not My Father's Son," a quiet, simple scene between these two characters. And in a bathroom, no less. It eloquently sums up the entire message of the show.
Director Betsy Buttell, choreographer Julie Ratz, musical director Haley Fisher and the rest of the creative team have crafted a rousing and joyful production. Costumes, wigs and makeup are all appropriately colorful and fitting. Simple sets and dynamic lighting create the right mood, whether a busy shoe factory or a London night club.
I'm a big fan of the film, and I was lucky enough to see Kinky Boots, the Musical on Broadway with Billy Porter, so I had some high expectations coming in. I really enjoyed this production. So did the cheering audience. Kinky Boots continues Oct. 19-23, 26-30. Showtimes on Wednesday and Thursday are 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. For tickets, visit https://www.atthelegacy.com.
Mary Young was born and raised in Springfield has been performing in, producing and directing live theater for decades. She's done film and voice-over work and performs regularly with the improv troupe The Portuguese Rodeo Clown Company. Their podcast is Radio 680: The Voice of Syracuse.