Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Kinky Boots
The Phoenix Theatre Company
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule (updated)

Also see Gil's reviews of Bright Star and One Man, Two Guvnors


Andrew Poston and Darius Harper (front) and Cast
Photo by Reg Madison Photography
There have been a number of successful, Tony-winning Best Musicals based on blockbuster films, but only a few that were adapted from small independent movies. The infectious, crowd-pleasing Kinky Boots, which won six Tonys as well as the Olivier Award for Best New Musical and had a long run on Broadway, was adapted from the little-known British film of the same name which was inspired by a true story. The musical makes its local debut at the Phoenix Theatre Company in an irresistible, upbeat and heartwarming production with a powerhouse performance by Darius Harper.

Set mostly in a small factory town 60 miles outside of London, Kinky Boots tells the story of how a chance meeting between two men, Charlie and Simon, sets in motion a plan to save Charlie's family-owned shoe manufacturing business which is on the verge of bankruptcy. After meeting Simon, who also performs as a drag queen named Lola, Charlie come ups with the idea to stop production of the company's current low-selling men's line of shoes and start manufacturing a series of "kinky boots" aimed at the niche drag queen market. Simon and Charlie plan to work together, using Simon's designs and Charlie's manufacturing skills. Will the strait-laced Charlie and the flamboyant Lola be able to set aside their differences and find a way to work together in order to save the business in time to debut the boots at the upcoming fashion show in Milan?

Although the ending is fairly predictable, bookwriter Harvey Fierstein added a few unexpected twists and turns along the way, along with some emotionally rich dramatic moments, while creating three dimensional characters the audience can care for. Pop diva Cyndi Lauper won a well-deserved Tony Award for her score, which includes soaring anthems and ballads, upbeat ensemble numbers, hilarious comical tunes, and an abundance of witty lyrics.

Director Pasha Yamotahari has found an impressive cast for this production, including many talented local actors who shine in supporting parts. Yamotahari brings a lovely sense of energy to the show along with swift staging that keeps the show moving at a fast clip. He also ensures that the actors present realistic characters, warts and all.

Darius Harper played the role of Simon/Lola in the first national tour of Kinky Boots and is nothing short of sensational in the part. He instills Lola with a larger than life presence but also shows us that, once the wig, make-up and dresses are removed, there is a shy, soft-spoken and sensitive Simon who wears his drag outwear as a suit of armor. Harper's singing voice soars and he creates a character with many layers. It's easy to see from this fantastic performance why everyone instantly pays attention to Lola whenever she enters the room.

As Charlie, Andrew Poston does very well as the straight man of the couple, managing to balance the character's conflicted feelings, confusion, and slightly stern layers. He shows a man uncertain of his future, with a few lovely and well-acted moments that depict a sense of understanding and acceptance. Harper and Poston beautifully depict the type of friendship you might imagine between a buttoned-up straight man and a flamboyant drag queen who find they have a lot more in common than they first think.

Kaitlyn Russell is hilarious as Lauren, the slightly kooky and entirely charming factory worker who finds herself falling in love with Charlie. Her solo, "The History of Wrong Guys," is a comical crowd pleaser. Joseph Cavazos is excellent as the rough and rugged Don, the conservative factory worker who has an issue with anyone who is different from him, especially Lola. Cavazos and Harper have some fun interactions together. Jessie Jo Pauley shines in the small part of Charlie's girlfriend Nicola, who wants to escape as quickly as she can from the small town they grew up in. Local actors Chanel Bragg, Lucas Coatney, Nicholas Hambruch, Lauren McKay and Clay Sanderson get a few moments to create fun, small supporting parts.

The rest of the cast form a formidable, hardworking ensemble, playing multiple parts with ease, including the group of factory workers who, at first, question Charlie's decision to manufacture the kinky line of footwear. Brant Michaels, Alex Nordin, DJ Petrosino, Vinnie Smith, Philip Stock, and Shaun-Avery Williams play Lola's "Angels," the drag queens who perform at the club with her, and they are superb in their dancing and performance abilities.

The technical aspects of this production include many fun, creative touches. Robert Kovach's set design is impressive. He uses moving flats and walls that resemble brick, a staircase, and an upper level to depict the factory setting and other locations. The stunning, colorful costumes by Cari Smith are knockouts, including an impressive assortment of outlandish footwear and splendid gowns and dresses for Lola and her Angels. Kelly Yurko's hair and make-up designs feature a varied selection of wigs for Lola and some spot-on drag queen make-up designs for the Angels. Daniel Davisson's lighting is composed of colorful, rich and vibrant touches that constantly shift and change to paint gorgeous scene images. Alan Ruch's music direction derives a wonderful sound from the band and gorgeous harmonies from the cast, who all sound fantastic due to Dave Temby's perfectly balanced and crystal-clear sound design. Dialect coach Diane Senffner's solid work ensures the range of accents in the production are authentic.

With a score chock-full of soaring, emotional ballads and comical tunes and a book with plenty of humor and drama, Kinky Boots powerfully depicts what can happen when friends work together to tackle a problem and, in doing so, also discover they become better people and overcome their obstacles. Kinky Boots is a powerful musical about acceptance yet also one filled with humor and a gigantic heart. The Phoenix Theatre Company's production of this uplifting, feel-good musical is upbeat and energetic, with a sensational cast. It's a perfect way to start the company's 100th season.

Kinky Boots, through October 13, 2019, at The Phoenix Theatre Company, 1825 N Central Avenue, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, visit http://phoenixtheatre.com or call 602-254-2151.

Director: Pasha Yamotahari
Music Director: Alan Ruch
Choreographer: James Kinney
Scenic Designer: Robert Kovach
Costume Designer: Cari Smith
Lighting Designer: Daniel Davisson
Sound Designer: Dave Temby
Dialect Coach: Diane Senffner
Hair and Makeup Designer: Kelly Yurko
Properties Master: Douglas Clarke

Cast: (in alphabetical order)
Ensemble: Savannah Alfred
Ensemble/ Nicola Understudy: Shani Barrett
Pat/ Ensemble: Chanel Bragg
Ensemble: Tarnim Bybee
Don/ Ensemble: Joseph Cavazos
Ensemble: Alyssa Chiarello*
Ensemble/ Lauren Understudy: Cassie Chilton
Ensemble: Hahnna Christianson
George/ Ensemble: Lucas Coatney
Ensemble/ Charlie Understudy: Alex Crossland
Simon Sr./ Ensemble: Aaron Ford
Harry/ Ensemble: Nicholas Hambruch
Lola/ Simon: Darius Harper*
Ensemble/ Lola and Angel Understudy: Kirk Lydell*
Angel: Brant Michaels*
Trish/ Ensemble: Lauren McKay
Angel/ Dance Captain: Alex Nordin*
Angel: DJ Petrosino*
Nicola/Ensemble: Jessie Jo Pauley
Charlie: Andrew Poston*
Lauren/ Ensemble: Kaitlyn Russell
Mr. Price/ Ensemble: Clay Sanderson
Angel: Vinnie Smith
Angel: Philip Stock
Richard Bailey/ Ensemble: Michael Thompson
Angel: Shaun-Avery Williams
Ensemble: Eric Zaklukiewicz

*Members of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors & stage managers in the U.S.


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