Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's recent review of This Palpable Gross Play/A Kind-Of Midsummer Night's Dream
And what better time for a gay superhero? The seeds of anti-gay hatred are being sown again, through right-wing politics, book censorship, and armed protests at drag performances. And a new study by the Anti-Defamation League and GLAAD shows that reports of anti-gay hatred (especially anti-drag hostility) doubled in the first three weeks of June 2023, compared to the same time a year earlier. In that context, Kinky Boots' drag heroine looks very much like a Marvel comic book hero, facing down the hate with wit and wile in this new production.
Harvey Fierstein based the stage adaptation of Kinky Boots on the 2005 film of the same name, relying on the swaggering, revelatory power of drag, and the show won six Tonys, including Best Musical and Best Score for Cyndi Lauper's songs.
Heartwarming Kelvin Urday plays Charlie, who is forced to take over the failing family shoe factory in Southampton, eighty miles southwest of London. And Tiélere Cheatem steals the show (and then gives it back in ten times better condition) as Lola, a London drag queen who first rescues Charlie during a mugging.
More importantly, Lola rescues Charlie's family business, and over a dozen on-stage factory workers' jobs, by drawing attention to the niche market for flamboyant footwear for men in skirts. Marshall Jennings is excellent as Don, a benighted straight guy who's eventually led out of his intellectual darkness into the enlightenment of the drag spotlight.
The large chorus of factory workers and drag performers is flawless, adding layers of realism and fascinating naturalistic emotion. And the tight, vivacious drag numbers are staged by the fine choreographer Maggie Nold, assisted by dance captains Mike Hodges and Michelle Sauer, each a choreographer in their own right. The great costumes are by Zach Phelps.
Kaitlin Gant is wonderful as Lauren, a factory worker with a crush on her young boss, and unflappable (as a performer) in the face of frequent mic problems at the performance I attended. Chelsie Johnston is equally fine as Charlie's glamorous, ambitious girlfriend Nicola.
Mr. Urday, as Charlie, does a beautiful job delivering an apology to Lola after tensions become intolerable. Kent Coffel plays his father and later the factory manager, helping maintain the high level of emotional probity throughout. And recent Georgia transplant Corrinna Redford adds a delicious dose of Italian flair as a stage manager in the climactic scene at a Milan fashion show.
Mr. Fierstein's 2022 memoir reveals a chaotic artistic background and an early life full of painful adjustments. But little of that is reflected in this transfer from film to stage. Although sleek and colorful, most of the show has a formulaic feel, in spite of top-notch performances all around. And (structurally) the final two songs, "Hold Me In Your Heart," and "Raise You Up/Just Be," seem derivative of "I Have Nothing," from the film The Bodyguard, and of "Celebration," by Kool & the Gang.
But Tiélere Cheatem is fabulous as Lola, and the mostly younger audience absolutely ate it all up.
Kinky Boots runs through August 27, 2023, at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square, St. Louis MO. For tickets and information, please visit www.tesseracttheatre.com.