THEATER REVIEW: “Kinky Boots” @ Baldwin Wallace University by Roy Berko

Through Sun 11/24

Kinky Boots, the Harvey Fierstein (book)/Cyndi Lauper (music and lyrics) award-winning musical, is based on the true story of a men’s shoe factory in England. The tale, which was made into a 1999 British TV special, then a 2005 film, centers on Charlie Price, who is left a man’s high-end shoe company in Northampton, England, by his father, and drag queen Lola, who has a fascination with shoes, especially red, spike-heeled boots.

The duo forms a partnership when Charlie’s factory is faced with bankruptcy, causing the potential laying off of his loyal employees, and Lola, an entertainer who, along with her dancing Angels, keeps breaking the heels on their poorly made boots. It’s a match made in heaven, except for the prejudices against Lola, and the financial and personal pressures pressed on Charlie.

Take the story, which stresses that to be happy in life you must “accept someone for who they are,” add some pop, funk, new wave music, lyrics that are perfectly drawn, humorous situations, and dynamic choreography, and you have a show which garnered six Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Score.

Baldwin Wallace University’s Kinky Boots, which is the first collegiate production of the Tony and Olivier Award-winning musical, is spectacular. Victoria Bussert’s spot-on directing, Gregg Daniels’ dynamic and creative choreography, Matthew Webb’s note-perfect musical direction, and Charlotte Yeman’s costume designs, complete with an array of spectacular handmade boots, all make this a special production.

Of course, there are the BW Music Theatre students, who pull-off a well-deserved standing ovation production. The quality quotient is not surprising, since the program has been recognized by OnStage Magazine as the #1 Bachelor of Music/Music Theatre program in the country. Yes, as the motto for the program states, “That must have had something to do with it.”

The BW family has a long history with Kinky Boots. Kyle Post, a BW ’07 grad, played one of the dancing Angels for the duration of its 2,500-performance, seven-year Broadway run, dancing and singing in his six-inch heels. Cory Mach (BW ’10) was also in the Broadway show as was Shannon O’Boyle (’12). Ryan Fielding Garrett (BW ’12) was the associate music director and played in the pit and toured as the show’s musical director. The touring company also included Patty Lohr (’08), as well as Zach Adkins (’15) and Jennifer Noble (’10).

Unusual for so many students from one school to be in a show? Not, for BW. The Kinky Boots program contains a two-page spread listing 42 other program grads who have appeared in one of the Great White Way productions. This, plus the number appearing in professional theaters around the country, teaching in various educational institutions and working in other aspects of the technical and business end of theater (another two-page program spread), is responsible for the great attention that BW, the Cleveland area’s crown jewel incubator of musical theater, receives nationally.

The BW production is a two-cast show for the leading roles. One group, the Lola cast — Nick Drake (Lola), Charlie H. Ray (Charlie), Nadina Hassan (Nicola) and Kailey Boyle (Lauren) — performs eight shows, while the Charlie Cast  — Gordia Hayes (Lola), Andrew Faria (Charlie), Caroline Didelot (Nicola) and Sydney Howard (Lauren) — has four opportunities. I saw the Lola cast, so the review’s names mentions are from that group.

Nick Drake creates a complete character as Lola. He puts on the role and wears the glorious costumes and high heels with confidence and pathos. His singing, dancing and acting ensure a long list of potential New York agents at this April’s BW senior’s showcase, panting to sign this talented young performer. Don’t be surprised that in next year’s fall campus show’s program, you see his picture and a credit for a Broadway or touring show.

Charlie H. Ray has the handsome youngish-male, big voice, dancing and performance charm that have taken many of his fellow Bussert-trained performers to Bright White Way attention (think Colton Ryan, Chris McCarrell and Corey Mach). His Charlie is charming, yet has an undercurrent of insecurity and determination. His renditions of “Step One” and the powerful “The Soul of Man,” were among the show’s highlights.

Kailey Boyle, as she proved in her Great Lakes Theatre’s Mama Mia! and Pride and Prejudice and Playhouse Square’s Lizzie the Musical is Broadway-ready. Her Lauren had just the right levels of humor and charm. Her “The History of Wrong Guys” was delightful. Nadina Hassan was “bitch”-right as Nicola.

The Angels (Mateus Cardoso, Nick Cortazzo, Kyle Elliot, Nic Hermick, Charles Miller and Lee Price) were as good as the dancers in the three other productions of the show that I’ve seen. Congrats to Gregg Daniels and dance captain Charles Miller for molding the group into a dancing machine.

The entire cast learned to walk and dance in stilettos, a daunting task. The final number and the curtain call are a showcase of wonder as the entire group flaunts around the stage in their six-inch heels!

Highlight numbers include such showstoppers as “The Land of Lola,” “Sex Is in the Heel,” and “Everybody Say Yeah.”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: KINKY BOOTS is the kind of musical where seeing it once is just not enough. The music, the storyline, the humor and the stage excitement make this a very, very special theatrical experience. BW’s must-see production is worth multiple visits.

Tickets for Kinky Boots, which runs through Sun 11/24, are available at440-826-2240 or www.bw.edu/tickets.

[Written by Roy Berko, member: American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle]

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