Review: ‘Kinky Boots’ never ceases to amaze

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Lola (J. Harrison Ghee) and Charlie (Adam Kaplan) form a bond through footwear in “Kinky Boots,” playing at the Golden Gate Theatre through May 22nd. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

I just love me some Lola.

Based on the reaction of the crowd that gathered at the Golden Gate Theatre for opening night of the all too short run of “Kinky Boots,” I was most definitely not alone.

This has been my fourth viewing of the show, and I am never not mesmerized by the complex Lola, who is beautifully rich with confidence, yet also shares daunting insecurities. In the past 15 years or so, in my humble opinion, Lola is one of the great characters to come along the American musical theatre canon.

Maybe it’s because she is hard to shake when leaving the theatre. There she is, ferociously tackling the moments that capture all the glitz of her at her heightened powers, standing in front of her minions, mesmerizingly bold and beautiful. And even when she walks into the Price and Son shoe factory as a bit, shall we say, tempered down, it is sharp and striking.

“Kinky Boots,” has so much going for it, and despite the fact that it’s been touring for two years, the energy of the show is still remarkably high, with a pulsating rhythm that moves it through space at breakneck speed, an absolute tour de force by director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell. The range of music and the various homages to a vast array of styles by Cyndi Lauper is magnificent, with beautiful numbers like “Not My Father’s Son,” and “Hold Me in Your Heart,” and big production jams like “Sex is in the Heel” and “Everybody Say Yeah.” And Harvey Fierstein, who is a masterful playwright, has many heartfelt and humorous twists and turns in his book.

Maybe the best thing about the show is that it features such memorable characters, like the aforementioned Lola. In my first viewing, witnessing Tony Award winner Billy Porter was magical. Kyle Taylor Parker, who started this same tour, was hulking and visceral in the role, gentle yet powerful. The most recent Broadway Lola, Alan Mingo, Jr. is just so damn silky smooth, every flutter and flick of his wrist just poetry in motion. And here, J. Harrison Ghee is a wispy, athletic marvel, whose height seems to allow him to tower over everyone, which really creates a very specific and unique dynamic. I always like to see if Lola can actually throw a punch, and Ghee has good technique. Sorry, that’s my boxing fan side talking.

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The national touring company of “Kinky Boots.” (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Ghee is just an all around fierce performer, hitting the many moments of Lola hilarity, but really creating such beautiful touches of warmth and pain, with tears powering through the audience’s collective eyes.

The story is really told through the eyes of Charlie, (a tender turn by Adam Kaplan), the son of a shoemaker who cannot understand why footwear is such a big deal, even pointing out to a few passionate feet folk, “You do know you’re talking about shoes?”

Charlie has a bit of a tricky range to follow. In the span of one intermission, he goes from conquering hero and ally to total douchebag. His rant towards Lola is particularly cruel, which sets up the beautiful payoff of a touching phone message he leaves for the scorned Lola. Kaplan does such nice work in terms of his relations to his other actors, playing lots of specific discoveries with skill.

A very unique interpretation of the adorable and warm Lauren was had by Tiffany Engen. Hers was a Lauren of great comic timing, addling lots of little staccato like movements to create a flighty woman who has been “executized.” While Charlie has found presumptive love with the beautiful, status driven Nicola (Charissa Hogeland), it is really this lovely girl the audience is outwardly pulling for.

Other key characters in the production were played with plenty of zeal. The critical character Don (burly Aaron Walpole) represents so many of those whose homophobia is crippling, and has a compelling arc. And shoe manager George (‘80’s sitcom star Jim J. Bullock) has plenty of great, deft touches of humor and strength.

But honestly, no one gets the crowd going like the Angels. For many, seeing such delicious curves makes you do some serious double takes. They are unapologetically feminine, and wholly joyous. They seem to function as the best of Lola, considering they only seem to be with her when she is at the peak of her powers. When Lola is most pained or vulnerable, they are nowhere to be found. It is a profound dichotomy that brings forth gentle humanity.

In today’s day and age, a time when a ridiculous debate is actually happening about where people can take a piss, the show’s message is profound without being preachy. There is so much to learn, so much to accept, and so much to love. “Kinky Boots” is a magical show in that I wanted to leave the theatre and not only make a difference, but also listen to the soundtrack. So much bliss.

Pure, red, high-heeled, sexy bliss.

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

SHNSF presents “Kinky Boots”
Directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Music and Lyrics by Cyndi Lauper
The Word: A Tony-winning show that stays with you long after the curtain closes, “Kinky Boots” is a loud and proud marvel.
Stars: 5 out of 5
The Golden Gate Theatre
1 Taylor Street, San Francisco, CA
May 11th – 22nd
Tickets range from $45 to $212
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission
Online: www.kinkybootsthemusical.com
For tickets, call (888) 746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com

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