Broadway San Jose’s ‘Kinky Boots’ is an elevation celebration

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Charlie (Curt Hansen) and Lola (J. Harrison Ghee) form an unlikely bond and go into business in “Kinky Boots,” in San Jose through Sunday, Feb. 29th (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

I cannot think of a musical theatre character that I love right now more than Lola.

She is magnificently fierce, dazzling and dashing, a character that has a heart of gold and style to match.

She’s a huge reason I have fallen in love with “Kinky Boots” ever since I first saw it back in 2014 on Broadway. In that production was Billy Porter, the man who originated Lola, for which he won a Tony Award, one of six for the scintillating production.

The national tour of the show, which has dug its heels into San Jose through Sunday, Jan. 29th is a marvel, a great combination of a fabulous score by Cyndi Lauper, book by masterful playwright Harvey Fierstein and phenomenal direction and choreography by Jerry Mitchell. This is a show with so much heart, featuring characters that are magnificently developed, and most importantly, it’s a show that’s fun, fun, fun.

Did I say the show is fun?

Charlie Price (Curt Hansen) has inherited a shoe factory, a young man who has learned as a little boy that shoes are the most beautiful things in the world. It’s not a sentiment man Charlie still subscribes to, now stuck keeping the factory open out of loyalty and legacy. The shoes that are produced all seem to be brown and drab, and they are not flying off the shelves the way they did back in the day.

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J. Harrison Ghee as “Lola.” (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

There is also some conflict with his girlfriend Nicola (Katerina Papacostas). She dreams of a thrilling life in London, not the life of the companion of a shoe factory owner in provincial Northampton. With Charlie’s motivation in complete disarray, he meets Lola (J. Harrison Ghee), a drag queen that is knocking the heels off the cheap women’s shoes nightly, punishing those shoes with wicked dancing.

Charlie knows these shoes are not designed for the weight of a man, so he proposes an unlikely alliance that leads to a business partnership with Lola. Now instead of making men’s shoes, Charlie and his factory employees will be making shoes for “a range of men.”

The beautiful conflict that exists between Charlie and Lola has everything to do with what bonds them. They both feel they are not worthy of being called son by the men who raised them. While Charlie was raised to believe that shoes were the most important things ever, Lola grew up training for life in a boxing ring. The grunt and spit of pugilism was his father’s answer to the more effeminate tendencies of “Simon.” The only problem was that Lola preferred high heels and cocktail dresses to boxing shoes and trunks.

The show offers up a lot of wide-ranging conflicts that come from all agendas – there’s the brilliant character Don (Aaron Walpole), a mouth-breathing homophobic bloke whose surprise out of nowhere puts a little knot in the throat. Then you have Lauren (Rose Hemingway), carrying a secret crush on Charlie, which might work, just because women have been screwing things up since the 12th of forever.

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“Lola” (Ghee, center) and the “Angels” (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

But one of the most powerful conflicts is the one that doesn’t really sit on the surface, and returns later in an absolutely stunning torch song sung by Lola, “Hold Me in Your Heart.” This is the beauty of Lola, a gender fluid performer that grabs the audience by their heart and the audience relents willingly, completely. I’ve seen Ghee perform this role before, but I do not remember being as stunned as I was this time around. Whether it was in this number or another tearjerker “Not My Father’s Son,” Ghee owns this role with ferocity.

Some songs are not favorites. I’ve never really gotten into “Soul of a Man.” There is an appreciation for the song’s degree of difficulty, and even though Hansen’s vocal texture is a bit nasally, he does a solid job with the belting. “The History of Wrong Guys” is always fun, a great vehicle for everything we like about Lauren. And the show closes each act with such joy and power, bringing things home with “Everybody Say Yeah” and “Raise You Up/Just Be.”

In the times we are living in, where it feels like every marginalized group is being threatened daily, does a show like “Kinky Boots” take on an added significance? I thought about that as I watched this show yet again. I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that it felt almost therapeutic to be there with my 10-year-old daughter as she discovered the show for the first time, smiling and laughing amongst the loving crowd, celebrating this big, beautiful musical where the most athletic men were dancing in high heels. And when two 70-year old women told me after the show that I’d be fun to dance with, (I think the head-bopping gave it away) it felt good. Very good.

Put another way, to paraphrase the show, for those in the audience who lately have hit the dust, had their bubbles bust, or had their glitter rust, “Kinky Boots” has a way of raising you up.

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

Broadway San Jose presents “Kinky Boots”
Music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell
Through Jan. 29th
The Word: A show that is as poignant and feel good as they come, big laughs, big tears and bigger shoes.
Stars: 5 out of 5
Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes with a 15-minute intermission
San Jose Center for Performing Arts
255 Almaden Blvd., San Jose, CA
Tickets range from $43 – $153
For tickets and information, call (800) 982-2787 or visit www.broadwaysanjose.com

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