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Kinky Boots isn’t at all what one might expect. No guys hook up with other guys, no loss of dignity is required, no pain is inflicted and outrageous tastes are revealed as mere matters of personal preference.

Harvey Fierstein has been struggling to make drag queens respectable for decades, since he wrote and starred in the Torch Song Trilogy in the late 1970s. La Cage aux Folles pretty well sealed his case in 1983 and his performance as somebody’s mom in Hairspray (2002) was almost nostalgic.

So the spine of Kinky Boots isn’t so much the reality that guys perform dressed as girls but more the problems they must solve to make it work right.

Steven Booth, left, and Kyle Taylor Parker in JKinky Boots at the Civic Theatre. Matthew Murphy Photos.

Steven Booth, left, and Kyle Taylor Parker in Kinky Boots at the Civic Theatre. Matthew Murphy Photos.

The Broadway musical that Fierstein and songwriter Cyndi Lauper fashioned from a true story of British mercantile survival celebrates far more the glories of capitalism that the naughty thrills of alternative sex.

A fine old boot-making firm in Northampton is threatened by changing tastes and foreign competition. In London doggedly seeking retailers, Charlie the reluctant fourth-generation boss befriends a mugging victim who turns to be a drag queen. This Lola and his/her colleagues are desperate to find a supplier who can furnish flashy footwear sturdy enough for male bodies. From there, it’s just a matter of everybody learning to get along.

There’s not a bad guy in sight anywhere, just various prejudices that must be squared. Charlie’s relationship with an upwardly-mobile bird doesn’t survive, though there’s a terrific working-class babe suddenly ready to step in. Some of the tough guys at the factory have trouble with their flamboyant new designer but that gradually yields to good judgment. The only real question left is whether the new line can be got ready in time for the prestigious Milan International Footwear Show.

Steven Booth and cast of Kinky Boots at the Civic Theatre

Steven Booth,  cast of Kinky Boots at Civic Theatre.

What do you think?

In the production of the Fierstein-Lauper show, which is presently at the Civic Theatre for Broadway San Diego, Jerry Mitchell has fashioned a jolly spectacle with just enough grit to link it with other Brits-Battle-Back shows such as Billy Elliot and The Full Monty. David Rockwell’s foursquare brick factory is flexible but never frivolous, the assembly line doubling as a dance treadmill and the industrial machinery keeping the tale grounded even with prancing chorus ponies weaving in and out.

The frivolity comes from costumer Greg Barnes, with Lola and her six-member chorus line up for multiple numbers. The leading boots are in fact impressive but there is a point at which imagination finally flags. Kenneth Posner’s lighting design, having dutifully underlined the sober early scenes, is allowed over the top for Milan and beyond, with neon and disco lasers and, well, see under “dazzle.”

All of Lauper’s songs work just fine, though the combination of swallowed diction and wretched sound enhancement for the dialogue erased any subtleties. A lot depended on the delivery. Though Kyle Taylor Parker sold all of Lola’s stuff with endless brio and Steven Booth was an appealing and even slightly complex romantic lead, my delight centered on Lindsay Nicole Chambers as Charlie’s ultimate squeeze. She’s a real sparkler and her delivery makes “The History of Wrong Guys” a modern maiden’s lament to be reused widely.

Lindsay Nicole Chambers and Steven Both in Kinky Boots at the Civic Theatre.  Matthew Murphy Photos

Lindsay Nicole Chambers and Steven Booth in Kinky Boots at the Civic Theatre. Matthew Murphy Photos

Mitchell’s genial direction and choreography are at the heart of the show’s appeal. His careful mix of stylized and fantasy and pathos turns a simple story into a bracing fable of focus and good will.

And the contribution of Steven Oremus, who made the musical arrangements (and decisions), is necessary to laud. He did similar work for The Book of Mormon and Wicked, so obviously he (like Mitchell) is among the generation presently moving the American musical theatre right along.

DOWNLOAD PROGRAM HERE

DOWNLOAD CAST LIST HERE

DOWNLOAD SONG LIST HERE

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San Diego Civic Theatre
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Welton Jones

Welton Jones

Welton Jones has been following entertainment and the arts around for years, writing about them. Thirty-five of those years were spent at the UNION-TRIBUNE, the last decade was with SANDIEGO.COM.

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