Paul McElroy, Jillian Prefach Baker, Kyle Braun, Da’Merius Ford, Tracey Hammon Hodge, Dick Baker in Kinky Boots. Photo: DDP
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Music and Lyrics by Cyndi Lauper
Based on the Screenplay by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth
Directed by Lee Buckholz
A review by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
Kinky Boots may just be the gayest show performed at Derby Dinner Playhouse since A Year with Frog and Toad. Concerned with drag queens, a gay lead character, glitter, and sexy boots, it’s not the usual fare for the playhouse. It’s nice to see them branching out into slightly edgier fare. That said, you’d be surprised that the show is also surprisingly wholesome and family-friendly.
Based on the 2005 film, and actual events, the musical tells the story of Charlie Price (Kyle Braun), a young man desperate to move out of the working-class neighborhood he was brought up in and out of his father’s shoe factory, which has fallen on hard times. Forced to take over managing the factory after his father’s passing, he realizes he has to come up with a plan to keep it from closing.
That plan begins to form when he chances to meet Lola (Da’Merius Ford), a tough drag performer. The two hit off on the idea to design boots for drag queens that can look fierce and still bear a man’s weight. This causes friction with friends and lovers and says a lot about homophobia among people who think they are more accepting than they are.
But even with some heavy themes, the show is simply a joy to experience. Relentlessly upbeat, with a contagious score by pop icon Cyndi Lauper and a hilarious libretto by Harvey Fierstein, it is so entertaining I can forgive a few minor flaws.
The performances are stellar across the board. Particularly strong work is given by Hannah Bonnett as Charlie’s potential new love interest Lauren. Her slightly psychotic rendition of the song “The History of Wrong Guys” is a highlight of the evening. Braun gives a sympathetic turn as Charlie, a man with his own dreams being pulled in everyone else’s direction until he basically has a musical nervous breakdown with his strongest number, “Soul of a Man.” There is also solid work by DDP regulars Bobby Conte as Charlie’s father and Dick Baker as his friend Harry. Both make the most of briefly featured roles before joining the ensemble.
But make no mistake, this show belongs to Da’Merius Ford. As Lola (or Simon, when he’s out of drag), he nails this character. Estranged from his father due to his gender identity, he is a force of nature. From the charged “The Land of Lola,” through the power of “The Sex is in the Heal” and the raw emotion of “Not My Father’s Son” and the eleven o’clock number “Hold Me in Your Heart,” Ford’s performance is the core of the show and it is his songs you’ll be remembering after you leave the theater.
Director Lee Buckholz keeps the cast moving with energy and spontaneity, and Heather Paige Folsom’s choreography is amazing (if not exhausting) to witness.
Ron Riall’s scenic design is mostly spot-on, except for a bulky bathroom stall that blocked one of the most emotional numbers from the view of a quarter of the audience. I think the scene would have played fine without it. I noticed a couple of sour notes from some of the soloists too, but not often.
But really, those criticisms are practically splitting hairs when the production as a whole is so enjoyable. This really is one of the best shows I’ve seen at Derby Dinner, and well worth seeking out.
Featuring Dick Baker, Jillian Prefach Baker, Kyle Braun, Matthew Brennan, Hannah Bonnett, Connor Brunken, Chris Bryant, Bobby Conte, Michael Evans, Da’Merius Ford, Etta Grover, Korey Harlow, Tracey Hammon-Hodge, Stephanie Inglese, D’Corey Johnson, Kyran Kennedy, Elizabeth Loos, Paul McElroy, Asa Milliner, Michael Mossucco, Alton Niemeier, Tymika Prince, Noah Robinson, Robert Sharkey, Mikhail Schulz, Sierra Stacy, Tyler Tate, and Taylor Thomas
February 16 – April 3, 2022
Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129
Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 14 years. In June 2019 he launched a new company with Jeremy Guiterrez, Theatre Reprise. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.