• Nate Adams

'Kinky Boots' review: Croswell’s production gets Two Stiletto’s Up!


Courtesy of The Croswell Opera House

 

During the opening night performance of The Croswell’s energetic production of “Kinky Boots,” the hit, Tony award winning musical based on the 2005 English indie film with a book by Harvey Fierstein and music by Cyndi Lauper, something unthinkable happened: mid-way through Act 1 (and just as Leonard Harris’ sensational Lola took the stage for his characters inaugural song: “The Land of Lola”) the fire alarm went off due to the smoke effects used in the show. As a performer, I can’t imagine what that experience was like or how you’d rebound from that type of disruption. You’d think the energy or mood would dissipate and audience enthusiasm would wane. 


But that wasn’t the case on Friday night.


Instead, it’s a testament to director/choreographer Debra Calabrese's incredible company in how they were able to immediately bounce back, overcome adversity, restart the song, and bring the house down. I’d like to think, as associate sound designer Karl Kasischke said, the fire alarm went off because these drag queens were dancing so hard they were literally on fire. To say they slayed would be an understatement and when the show concluded with a rapturous standing ovation and you remember the script's overall message of love and acceptance, The Croswell’s “Kinky Boots” is an inspiration.


Although recommended for mature audiences due to its subject matter, “Kinky Boots” still finds ways to cross barriers and generational gaps. The story of a lowly, working class Brit named Charlie (Dan Clair) who has to find a way to salvage his father’s failing shoe factory, is exactly the type of rousing, “get back on your feet” narratives theatregoers have indulged for decades; while the story of Lola and her Angels trying to make a statement with their immaculate drag queen personas resonates more today than in 2013 when it first debuted. 


In short, “Kinky Boots” is a massive crowd-pleaser anchored by spunky musical sequences and flavored with the rhythms and melodies of Lauper’s wonderful musical intuition (you wouldn't know it, but this was the first production she helped develop). “Kinky Boots” cornerstones “Take What You Got” and “The Sex is in the Heel” offer an eclectic variety of genres: like an intimate, somber ballad punctuated by a show-stopping hit! Music director Adam P. Miller steps up to the plate in a major way, however, none of these infectious songs would land if not for the cast leaving everything they have on the stage.


Harris is a tremendous Croswell find, a fabulous and boisterous presence you can’t look away from each time he enters the room. Likewise for Lola’s entourage of Angels played by Jarrod Alexander, Mikey Del Vecchio, Domonique Glover and Sky Rodriguez who glisten in their immaculate costumes, make-up, and wig design (shout-out to costumer Tallie Carter who probably didn’t get much sleep making these fierce diva’s look as stunning as they did). And before you ask, yes, the iconic red stiletto boots are here and accounted for.


Some corners of the world might categorize “Kinky Boots” as high camp because the show (especially during Act II, which pales in comparison to the rip-roaring pace of Act I) relies on cliché and occasionally manipulative storytelling mechanics to pull on the heart strings. It’s true, but the difference comes from whether or not the actors can pull emotion or integrity from Fierstein’s thin script. Aside from the inconsistent use of working-class English accents and some performers struggling to meet the moment for the show’s demanding vocals, this Croswell version of “Kinky Boots” shows characters with strength, warmth, and immense versatility.


Clair is a fine Charlie, who ends up making Lola one of his top designers responsible for crafting a unique and sturdy shoe for the niche and underserved drag queen market. As is Dara Pardon’s bubbly Lauren whose song “The History of Bad Guys” had myself and the opening night crowd rolling in our seats. The cast is rounded out by a slew of Croswell staples and newbies alike: Lauren Goyer, Ron Baumanis, Wesley Grudzien, Taylor Goodin, and Rachel Ogger. Scenic design by Doug Miller captures the spirit and tone of “Kinky Boots” with a sheen, industrial afterglow; we already mentioned Carter’s flawless costume design; Chris Goosman is on sound while Crosby Slupe does lights.


The Croswell’s “Kinky Boots'' displays ace craftsmanship across the board with a measured appreciation for the source material. And as each number progressed and the show hit its stride, seeing the community (and this venue) celebrate this piece of musical theater was quite heartwarming; reinforcing equality will always triumph over hate and Lola and her Angels are the literal definition of sizzling. 


The Croswell’s production of KINKY BOOTS continues through Sunday, September 25th and tickets can be purchased at Croswell.org.