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Theatre review: Kinky Boots buckles under lackluster performances

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Cecilia Lu Feb 21, 2017 12:30 am 397

Originally reviewed for Daily Hive Vancouver


Kinky Boots opened at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium last night, kicking off a one-week run in Calgary. The musical has become a much-lauded audience favourite in a short time, but this opening night’s performances felt both restrained and disjointed.

Briefly put, Kinky Boots does not fill the soles of those famous red stilettos. Further hampered by a paper-thin storyline, the production is but a shadow of its Grammy Award-winning potential.

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In one of those vague ‘inspired by true events’ stories, fabulous performer Lola dances into town and into the fortunes of an ailing shoe factory. Reluctant heir Charlie Price struggles between making payroll and the life he left in London, all the while maintaining a long-distance relationship with his fiancée, Nicola.

Desperation sees Charlie pivoting the factory from manufacturing sturdy men’s shoes to drag queen boots, with Lola coming on board as creative designer. Both Charlie and Lola must overcome internal and external conflicts in preparation for the ultimate catwalk at the Milan Footwear Show.

Image: Matthew Murphy

First off, the production looked great, from the factory floor to the treadmill-like assembly line to the elaborately bejewelled costumes and boots. But like most musicals, Kinky can only come alive through believable characters and show-stopping numbers.

From the beginning notes of Act 1, Kinky showcased more shortcomings than strengths of its leading cast. Curt Hansen (Charlie) tries for a rough British accent while speaking, but goes into full boyband mode when breaking into song. Vocally, Hansen’s nasally and over-styled delivery can’t hide the fact that he doesn’t have the range to deliver Charlie’s standout moments. This is most painfully evident during Act 2’s show-stopping (but in this case, simply ear-splitting) “Soul of a Man.”

Image: Matthew Murphy

Due to these shortcomings, while Charlie easily received the most development on-stage, the character felt the most shallow to me. This was especially noticeable when compared to leading lady Lauren’s (Ellen Marlow) all-too-brief moments to shine. “The History of Wrong Guys” was undeniably the standout hit of the night, a fleeting reminder that when performer matches up with the role, all of Kinky’s contradictions can mesh together.

Image: Matthew Murphy

J. Harrison Ghee as Lola does have the chops to pull off his notes, especially on simple ballads like “Not My Father’s Son” and “Hold Me in Your Heart.” Ghee sounded and looked the part, but sometimes faded into the background on group performances, towering stilettos and all. Lacking the magnetism of many actual drag queens, Ghee’s Lola felt a bit safe, drawing in easy laughs but falling short of the true complexities of the character.

Kinky Boots may be a recent addition to the Broadway repertoire, but it already feels dated. The script introduces basic concepts of sexuality (e.g. the difference between drag queens and transvestites), but mostly plays them for a quick laugh. It’s easy to see the influences of musical’s source material, a 2005 British film by the same name.

What may have once been provocative doesn’t have the same shocking tone over two decades later, and the Cindy Lauper penned tunes aren’t enough to fill in the gaps, over the course of the two plus hour runtime.

With this lackluster production, Kinky Boots reveals all of its flaws to the world – but very little of its charms.

Kinky Boots – Broadway Across Canada

Where: Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium – 1415 14th Avenue NW

When: February 21 to 26

Tickets: At Ticketmaster, $45-$140


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Cecilia Lu
Arts Editor at Daily Hive. Cecilia is a sucker for great indie theatre and anything really geeky. Lethal drink of choice: single malt whisky. cecilia[at]dailyhive[dot]com

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