Finding the Right Size in BOOTS
Did you know that the musicals MATILDA and KINKY BOOTS both premiered within the same theatrical season, and thus were both competing with each other for awards? KINKY BOOTS, thanks to its initial impressions, was considered the underdog between the two. However, time passed and to many, it became clear that KINKY BOOTS was a home run. It eventually went to get nominated for 13 Tony Awards, winning 6 of them. Did you also know that Diamond Head Theatre’s closing production of the previous season was MATILDA, and its opening production of this season is KINKY BOOTS? Of course, it’s a coincidence, but a rather fun nugget of trivia nonetheless.
Diamond Head Theatre is launching its 2019-2020 theatrical season with the Broadway smash hit, KINKY BOOTS, with book by Harvey Fierstein and music & lyrics by Cyndi Lauper. Directed by Andrew Sakaguchi, the musical centers around two seemingly opposite men who find out they have much more in common than either know. The production runs through October 13, and shows have already been added to its initial run.
Charlie Price (Zachary Linnert) faces a crisis. Having wanted to distance himself from his father’s (Fedrico Biven) shoe company, Price & Son, he moved away from his hometown (and location of the shoe factory) Northampton to London, where he hoped to find a career in real estate next to his fiance, Nicola (Jody Bill). This quickly gets dashed as he is forced to return to Northampton when his father suddenly passes and he is the one to run the shoe factory. The workers, with most having watched Charlie grow up, know his heart doesn’t truly lie with the company. Charlie learns that Price & Son, as it turns out, had its sales wither increasingly throughout the years, so much that they were making new shoes and not selling any from the year before. At his wit’s end, fate intervenes when Charlie meets a drag queen on the street who can hold her own, Lola (Kwame Michael Remy). Lola and her Angels (Dwayne Sakaguchi, Chev Vaughn, Marcus Stanger, Xander van der Berg, Sean Maskrey, Kainoa Chorman) perform a night club in town, and she and Charlie bond over a broken heel of a boot. The next day, Charlie has to begin laying off his workers, and they don’t take kindly to this (if acknowledging it at all). One employee of his, Lauren (Vanessa Manuel-Mazullo), shows exceptional vigor and resourcefulness, telling Charlie of a company that pivoted on what it actually built and readjusted the market it catered to, entering into an “underserved niche market.” The wheels in Charlie’s head begin turning, and goes to Lola for a proposition: to help him design fashionable women’s boots that men would be able to wear without worrying about the heel breaking under their weight. Lola eventually agrees, and thus Lola and the Angels help Charlie and the employees of Price & Son design some boots. Will it last? Will everyone be able to get along? Is the world ready for the boots coming from Charlie and Lola?
Remy is a joy to watch onstage as Lola, serving energy, charisma, and wit throughout her scenes. When not in drag, we learn Lola’s given name is Simon, and Remy also is powerhouse in these scenes as well. As Simon, we see a shining vulnerability as we see he is willing to change because others aren’t as flexible, and we are able to learn more about the pain and turmoil he has carried throughout his life. Alongside Remy, the Angels also were amazing to watch as they gave the production some jazzed up, energetic numbers that it sorely needed. Manuel-Mazullo is comedic gold in her role as an employee who gets promoted that also realizes she is falling in love with Charlie; her timing and commitment to her character choices are fabulous, and alongside Remy was a consistent highlight of the production. Will Thomson’s Don was a surprise, articulating the prejudiced employee’s arc with humanity and heart, earning the audience’s affection by the end of the show.
Accents were not a strength of the production. I understand accents are a hard aspect to nail down, but it’s clear that it wasn’t a strong focus in terms of direction, and thus every so often would break the immersion and bring myself out of the realm of the play. Also, the message of Fierstein and Lauper’s musical rings true, but the script’s construction makes it difficult to relate and connect to almost anyone that isn’t Lola and the Angels. The way the songs and dialogue is written does not do any favors for Linnert and the rest of the Price & Son employees, and it may have been intentional on the part of Fierstein and Lauper to have most of the non-Lola parts be drier, but it becomes an issue when you begin asking yourself, “when’s the next Lola number?” Sakaguchi’s choreography is also indicative of this- the Angels demonstrate tight,awesome choreography while any other numbers that involve choreography by the Price & Son employees comes off as pedestrian in comparison.
Phil Hidalgo’s musical direction is great, and he leads the orchestra as the actors beautifully bring Lauper’s multi-facted score to life. Willie Sabel’s set design looked great, bringing the audience from Northampton to Milan to a nursing home and back. However, the production I saw had a few set mishaps and a few shaky set pieces that required a few stagehands holding various pieces in place; I’m sure the safety and security of the set has been addressed, and it can go back to handling the full force of this vibrant production. Speaking of vibrant, Karen G. Wolfe’s designs shine. Dressing the Angels and Lola must have been a blast, as they have such fierce dynamic looks that consistently wow (can you imagine doing a dance number in trench coats?). Aiko Schick’s hair and makeup design go hand in hand with Wolfe’s, and together they make all of the actors pop, in drag or not. John M. Cummings III’s props are many throughout the show, and the attention to detail is fabulous, especially the first prototype of Lola’s boots, as pictured above. Finally, Dawn Oshima’s lighting is distinct and sassy when lighting the Lola numbers, and does a great job of leading and supporting the narrative outside of that.
I may have had a few reservations, but at the end of the day it’s undeniable that Kinky Boots is energetic and rousing. The production is spunky and loud in declaring its identity, and Remy as Lola is the absolute jewel of the production. Tickets are going fast, if you would like to see what shows are still available, then click here. KINKY BOOTS will cause sensations on the runway and in Diamond Head Theatre through October 13.