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When you think of a musical about shoes for drag queens written by Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper, you might expect the sequins and the glitter and the non-stop musical showstoppers. What you might not expect is the elegance, the warmth, and the poignancy that Kinky Boots has to offer. The 2012 musical tells the story of two unlikely friends: Lola, a cabaret performer from London, and Charlie, a small town guy looking to fill his father's shoes – literally and figuratively – as one of the last shoe-makers in business. Charlie and Lola join forces to step out from under their fathers' shadows and convert Price & Son's shoe manufacturing company into Price & Son's Kinky Boots manufacturing company. At first, a Broadway underdog to its contemporary Matilda the Musical, Kinky Boots' heartfelt message of acceptance launched it to the top in box office sales for new musicals in 2013 and earned it a staggering six TONY Awards.
North Carolina Theatre capitalized on the star-powered fuel to draw in talent with a laundry list of Broadway and national tour credits among the cast, including leads Joseph Anthony Byrd (Lola), Graham Scott Fleming (Charlie), and director Nathan Peck. As noted in the program, Peck worked closely with original director and choreographer, Jerry Mitchell, to recreate many original themes from the first production. In addition to the New York talent, NCT acquired the costumes from the UK tour of the production, which were well adapted for the NC cast by costumer LeGrande Smith and hair/wig/makeup coordinator Roxanne de Luna. Indeed, the costumes, boots, and wigs of Kinky Boots put on a show of their own.
In his curtain speech on opening night, NCT Producing Artistic Director Eric Woodall boasted the company's first season producing all shows in house, as opposed to hosting touring productions, which allowed the organization to employ over 100 native North Carolinians in the production of Kinky Boots.
Locals were indistinguishable from New York natives in this not-to-miss production of Kinky Boots. Fleming and the factory ensemble set the energy high with their opening number, "The Most Beautiful Thing," and Byrd and the fantastic ensemble of Angels (Ian Gallagher Fitzgerald, Ethan Baker, David Merino, Jose Rondon, Jr., Robert Pendilla, and Tommy Martinez) propelled the energy into the stratosphere with the exhilarating "The Land of Lola." Byrd's endurance seemed unflappable as he swiftly moved into the highlight of Act I, "The Sex Is in the Heel." This collaboration between both Angels and the factory ensemble was a delight of spectacle that would prove to be the first of several throughout the night. From then on, any time the Angels set foot on stage, there was sure to be a raucous response from the crowd. Sydni Beaudoin managed to single-handedly maintain that momentum with her refreshing and hilarious take on Lauren, a factory girl hesitantly falling for Charlie, in "The History of Wrong Guys." Although he did not get a similar spotlight, John Scherer also deserves a nod for his understated but perfectly timed humor as George, the longtime business manager of Price & Son. Byrd and Fleming followed with a sneak peek into the heart of the show that would be fully revealed in Act II with "I'm Not My Father's Son," in which Byrd flexed a different facet of Lola, proving he could command a stage as equally in quiet and stillness as in high-heeled song and dance.
Fleming played the perfect foil to Byrd's Lola with his quietly capable Charlie. Never competing for the spotlight, he stepped into his own by leading the company in "Everybody Say Yeah" and continued to blossom in Act II.
Act II dug in to the heart of the show with noteworthy song after noteworthy song, touching on the hardships of living up to traditional expectations; loving one another, flaws and all; and, most of all, loving yourself. The final number of the show, with a parade of out-of-this-world fabulous boots, a full company catwalk, and the outlined six secrets to success, is worth the price of a ticket alone. Third generation factory man Don, played by Joe Coots, buttons the show with his change of heart that resonates as especially necessary: you change the world when you change your mind.
Kinky Boots continues through Sunday, February 16. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.