Kinky Boots

Kinky Boots

Because I have apparently spent the last four years living in a musical theater trunk, I knew shockingly little about six-time 2013 Tony Award-winner “Kinky Boots.” With keen interest I was aware that the show is scored by 1980s pop music legend Cyndi Lauper and that the plot has something to do with shoes. Touring productions have passed through Chicago several times but somehow I always missed them.

I am pleased to report that this bit of Broadway ignorance has been rectified. Directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, with a book by Harvey Fierstein, “Kinky Boots” is back in town at the Oriental Theatre for a limited one-week engagement. Fierstein, who recently disappointed me with the one-dimensional Disney musical “Newsies,” returns to fine narrative form with the story of Charlie Price and Lola. The plot summary per press materials is as follows:

“Charlie Price is struggling to live up to his father’s expectations and continue the family business of Price & Son. With the factory’s future hanging in the balance, help arrives in the unlikely but spectacular form of Lola, a fabulous performer in need of some sturdy new stilettos.”

This is accurate and yet, as opposed to the oversimplified “Newsies,” “Kinky Boots” is full of loaded, complicated questions. Can legacy craftsman stay alive in the modern commercial world of outsourcing? How are the relationships between fathers and sons shaped by expectation and ambition? And what exactly does it mean to “be a man?”

Not all of these queries are given clear answers and that’s as it should be. What the source material and strong performances do assert however is that manhood is actually a wide variety of profiles in courage, personalized for every individual. And Lola, a trained prize fighter, loving human and drag queen extraordinaire defies all stereotype to present an engrossing, complex, emotional portrait of maleness.

While Billy Porter originated the role on Broadway, Lord have mercy J. Harrison Ghee. The actor, best known for a regional production of “The Color Purple” is a force of nature. Stunningly good looking, powerful of movement and with a soaring, gorgeous voice reminiscent of a young Luther Vandross, this is Ghee’s stage and he knows how to command it. The artist is no slouch in the dramatic department either. Just try not to weep at the conclusion of “Hold Me in Your Heart” toward the end of the second act.

The cast is not as uniformly and uniquely gifted as Ghee. Adam Kaplan’s Charlie is cute and likeable, but the performance is a quick, pleasant consumption, unlikely to stay with the audience longer than it takes to process the sugar rush. And it’s kind of hard to understand why stage and television screen icon Jim J. Bullock would undertake the largely throwaway role of George, the Price family accountant. He has a couple of good moments but his larger-than-life “Too Close for Comfort” personality is buried under a frumpy costume and rote dialogue.

Tiffany Engen, as dedicated Price employee and Charlie-smitten Lauren fares much better. She is a talented physical comedienne who uses every millimeter of her short stature to project an endearing, quirky foil to Charlie’s social-climbing, materialistic fiancée Nicola (Ellen Marlow).

As for Lola’s parade of “Angels,” a chorus of drag amazingness embodied by Joseph Anthony Byrd, Sam Dowling, Ian Gallagher Fitzgerald, JP Qualters, Xavier Reyes and Sam Rohloff, there’s almost literally no words. Their physiques, costumes, acrobatics, sass, and strut are both an extension of Lola and a magnificent entertainment standalone. The musical numbers that conclude both acts — “Everybody Say Yeah” and “Raise You Up/Just Be” — would have much less punch without this group of rhythmic, sexy performances.

Cyndi Lauper earned every piece of metal that went into creating her Tony Award for Best Score. Each carefully crafted tune is a catchy, touching story, seamlessly serving plot movement while working just as well as party playlist addition. The soundtrack will be on my holiday gift list this year.

There are some minor details with which a critic could quibble. The second act argument between Charlie and Lola feels a bit contrived and some of the rural England factory characters are shallowly drawn. But really, who cares? “Kinky Boots” is one hell of a show. Chicagoans are encouraged to catch it before it sashays back out of town.

“Kinky Boots” runs through September 4 at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph Street, Chicago, IL. For information or tickets, call 800-775-2000 or visit the Broadway in Chicago website.

Just Warming Up: Kris Bryant Pulls Away as MVP Frontrunner

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“This coming Labor Day weekend, I’ll make my third 2016 trip to Wrigley Field for Sunday’s game against the San Francisco Giants. I’m always excited to hear Bryant’s walk-up song, ‘Warm It Up Kris,’ the classic early 1990s rap tune tendered by Kris Kross. I’m not even sure Bryant was born when the song was briefly popular, but any writer has to love the name symmetry and fans (especially with a couple beers in the belly) can’t help but bounce to the peppy beat.

But we’ll be cheering Bryant’s plate approaches a little extra loudly because, as of this week, he’s the National League MVP frontrunner. All by himself. According to the latest report, ‘[the] third baseman for the Chicago Cubs and occasional outfielder, received eight of the 10 first-place votes in USA TODAY Sports’ NL MVP power rankings.'”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

Trump’s Call For Poll Monitoring Needs Far More Media Attention

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“The Trump campaign is literally ready to do battle all the way through November 8 in the name of “Making America Great [White] Again.” As NPR’s Pam Fessler reported earlier this month, Trump Calls On Supporters To Monitor Polling Places On Election Day. Two rhetorical questions:

  1. What do you suppose is the dominant demographic makeup of these poll patrollers?
  2. Who do you think they’re looking to screen during an exercise of constitutional rights?

Trump has already planted the seed that the only way he loses in certain states (specifically Pennsylvania) is if “cheating” occurs. If this were fiction, it might be hilarious that Trump’s new campaign chief, the upstanding citizen known as Steve Bannon, is himself the suspect of voter fraud. But I’m not laughing. Because as Fessler correctly observes, ‘Most election experts dismiss Trump’s claims that people can vote five, 10 or 15 times at the polls. Not only is it almost impossible to do. There are very few proven cases of in-person voter fraud.'”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

The Hypocritic Oath: Trump Campaign Can’t Stop Insulting Voter Intelligence

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“Not only is Trump an outrageous purveyor of hate, he’s also a ginormous hypocrite. While spewing racist rhetoric from every corner of his campaign, he has the unmitigated gall to label Hillary Clinton a “bigot.” Just what kind of fools does Trump’s team take American voters to be?

Don’t answer before considering the other ridiculous attempts the worst candidate in history made this week to pull the wool over our collective eyes.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

White Male Privilege’s Biggest Threat: Strong American Women

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“A damned inspiring couple of weeks. And all this lady winning took place against a political backdrop where Hillary Clinton is on track to be elected the first female president in American history. In many ways it’s never been a more exciting and hopeful time to be a woman in this country. Our gender is literally everywhere smashing through barriers, teaching little girls of all skin tones that the limits of possibility are drawn only by one’s hard work and determination.

But if summer 2016 has been a celebratory feast for gifted, focused American women in sports and politics, our male counterparts have struggled. The ugly excesses of white male privilege have been on a world tour. It’s been one embarrassing, frightening and disappointing moment after another for the reproducers of the patriarchal ideology – consciously or otherwise. Here’s a brief rundown of this season’s competitive exercises in white male disgust…”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

GOP In Headlights: This Week In The Trump Campaign

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“I was a big soap opera fan as a kid growing up in the 1980s. Give me a hot super couple romance or a realistically impossible natural disaster and I was all in. Santa Barbara, General Hospital and All My Children – while other youths were catching up on cartoons, I was transfixed by Luke and Laura’s magnificent, on-location wedding.

Watching Donald Trump’s campaign unfold is an experience quite like the televised daytime dramas that kept me hooked well into the early 2000s. Except that there’s no decompression after closing one’s laptop or turning off the TV. There are real consequences besides the sort of anxiety-ridden fugue state that is a burden of all those endeavoring to follow the fire. Party affiliation is inconsequential. If one is a passionate liberal, the prospect of Trumpism in the White House and its associated wrecking ball effect on America as we know it is one kind of panic attack. And for conservatives (whatever that means these days), the specter of electoral annihilation and party irrelevance has many pundits and politicians reaching for the Xanax.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel Stubbornly Remains in Office, Still Destroying Chicago

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“When the Mayor deems Gang Threats Against Police ‘Absolutely Unacceptable,’ he’s perfectly right of course. But the mob vengeance mentality against the CPD did not germinate in a vacuum. What he calls “a continuing dialogue on police reform,” is necessary because Emanuel’s office has a persistent problem – routine evidence of black citizens losing their lives to police officers under circumstances questionable at best.

At this point we’re stuck with Rahm until early 2019. Consideration of a recall bill has been stalled since January, and the Mayor has deflected numerous calls for his resignation. However, we are the same city that shut down a Trump rally, the town that rebuilt itself as a world-class destination after a devastating fire. We reversed the flow of the Chicago River. We are more than capable of coming together to remove the cancer in City Hall. So let’s do it. #FireRahm”

Read the full post at Contemptor.