HEELS UP: Kinky Boots is a season high for the Orpheum

Ed. Note: In an on-going effort to spotlight local shows and events that will interest teens (some of Baewatch’s biggest readers), I am bringing reviews of the Orpehum’s Broadway season throughout the year. You all should know I love anything dramatic and sometimes outrageous. Enjoy a break from your smartphones and let me know if there’s anything else you would like to see me review! 

I don’t think I can say enough good things about last night’s performance of Kinky Boots at the Orpheum. It was opening night, a night that is typically full of mistakes and awkward moments, but it was the most flawless and energetic performance I’ve seen since “Once.” The show could be a controversial one for the theatre, but it reminds me why The Orpheum is so important to Memphis’s theatre culture. Despite how many negative things you might hear about our city, we take risks with our theatre and Kinky Boots opening for a week’s run of performances is a great example of this.

But back to the show.

Kinky Boots opens with two children, both different in appearance but similar in their feelings of misplacement. Charlie (played by Broadway veteran Steven Booth) and Lola/ Simon (played by excellent newcomer Darius Harper) are burdened by the expectations of their fathers. For Charlie, it’s to grow up and run the successful family shoe business. For Lola, it’s simply to be a man’s man who doesn’t wear red heels. If the sight of a young Lola running around in heels doesn’t make you smile, then this show will be a long one for you.

After a few minutes divulging background info, the show quickly brings us up to speed in present day. Lola is performing in a nightclub as a drag queen; while Charlie has moved to London with his pesky girlfriend Nicola (played by a feisty Grace Stockdale). The two men initially meet after Charlie decides he has to lay off half of Price & Son’s staff to make end’s meet. After running into Lola at the nightclub and seeing her need for new shoes he offers her boots made by his company.

With Lola, Charlie finds an unlikely counterpart. Both men are struggling to find their purpose in life, and both men are trying to escape the shadow of their fathers. The show digs deep into the idea of masculinity and debunks the notion that in order to be a man you have to be grizzly and tough. Lola is meant to show that it takes a hell of a man to put on heels, makeup and a dress and wear it with pride. And in case you aren’t already in-tune with this idea Charlie and Lola sing it to you in “Not My Father’s Son.”

After a botched first attempt at the boots, Charlie finally creates the boots Lola wants–kinky, red boots–and the show’s best number is performed with extreme gusto, “Everybody Say Yeah”.

The show’s energy flares–only for a few minutes–in act two when a few inevitable misunderstandings happen to bring us to the grand finale. I, of course, will not ruin those for you but I’m sure you can imagine the obstacle Charlie and Lola must work through in order to make it to Milan for the boots Fashion Week Debut.

What struck me most about this musical is how insanely talented every single member of Kinky Boots’ cast is. There was not one bad performance from anyone. The only instances something rang a bit false would be when a few performers slipped from a British accent to an Irish/ Geordie accent. No one was impeccable with their British slang apart from Lauren (Lindsay Nicole Chambers), but everyone still made it believable. Even the children, who are in the show all of five minutes, left lasting impressions. They even, (I really hate to admit this), brought a small tear to my eye in the finale when I saw baby Charlie flamboyantly dancing with no care in the world onstage, nailing every piece of choreography. The costumes are also to die for. Only Kylie Minogue can rival this show with how many sequins and glitter are sewn into the costumes.

I would also like to point how incredible the drag Angel ensemble is. For a group of guys who have barely any lines but a ton of choreography and singing, they gave it their all. Lola’s performances would not have been the same without them and they conveyed absolute sexiness in every number.

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And what about Lola? Darius Harper is fantastic in the role, and I was shocked to learn he is such a newcomer. In his actor bio, he just lists playing an Angel and a few shows in Chicago as his most notable performances. By his last solo performance “Hold Me In Your Heart”, I felt like I was watching a true diva make a career defining performance. Big things are in store for Harper if he plays his cards right. He’s funny, he hits hard emotionally and he has wonderful stage presence. He also looks identical to RuPaul in and out of drag.

Which, now that I mention RuPaul, I’d like to point out one of the best lines in the show: when Lola yells at Charlie, “Drag is mainstream!” This couldn’t be more truthful. From RuPaul’s Drag Race to teen girls using “slay/read/shade” to Lady Gaga pushing LGBT culture into the forefront of pop culture, there isn’t a better time to immerse yourself in the drag scene.  It makes me so happy to see drag in a theatre setting, and in a show as fabulous as Kinky Boots. If you like what you see in this musical, then I encourage you to go out and support your local queens. There are thousands of Lola’s in every city (both big and small) so please don’t miss out on continuing the fun of this show by not supporting more drag performances.

And at the end of Kinky Boots I hope you remember the main theme: accept everyone, including yourself, for who they are with no questions asked. I also hope you are prepared for one of the grandest closing numbers ever with “Raise You Up/ Just Be.” Come as yourself and enjoy the glamour.

Kinky Boots is hosting a student/ teacher rush night TONIGHT and “heroes” rush (retired and active military, police, firemen, and first responders – up to 2 tickets per military/first responder ID/badge) is Sunday with tickets at $20 for both shows. The $20 Rush tickets will go on sale at the main box office about 30 minutes before showtime. Two tickets can be purchased per valid service ID in-person only on a first-come, first-served basis for the best available seats (no choice in seats). ID required for 18+. Not valid toward previous purchases. Cash only. Call 901-525-3000 with questions. 

Aside from that, you can buy your tickets online here or catch a performance tonight through Sunday with matinees on the weekend. 

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