Dallas Summer Musicals
Directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell
Musical Direction by Adam Souza
Scenic Design by David Rockwell
Costume Design by Gregg Barnes
Lighting Design by Kenneth Posner
Sound Design by John Shivers
Hair Design by Josh Marquette
Make-up Design by Randy Houston Mercer
Musical Supervision, Arrangements & Orchestrations by Stephen Oremus
J. Harrison Ghee as Lola
Steven Booth as Charlie Price
Lindsay Nicole Chambers as Lauren
Joe Coots as Don
Craig Waletzko as Georg
Grace Stockdale as Nicola
Ensemble: Damien Brett, Lauren Nicole Chapman, Amelia Cormack, Blair Goldberg, Darius Harper, Ross Lekites, Mike Longo, Tommy Martinez, Nick McGough, Bonnie Milligan, Kenny Morris,Horace V. Rogers, Ricky Schroeder, Anne Tolpegin, Juan Torres-Falcon, Hernando Umana and Sam Zeller.
Production photos by Matthew Murphy
Reviewed Performance 2/25/2015
Reviewed by John Garcia, Senior Chief Critic/Editor/Founder for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
As an actor, I had the esteemed honor to be part of the cast for the regional premiere of the musical PAGEANT. Then several years later I did that production again, in a different role. On my bucket list of “dream roles” (as all actors have), I finally got to perform one of those roles on the list, which was Edna Turnblad in Hairspray. What do they have in common? High heels! These were the only two shows where I portrayed characters in drag and wore heels! Oye, those *&!$ pumps! Just typing that reminds me of the pain of wearing those high heels. I know they had to be created by some S&M freak years ago!
Drag has really taken off in the last couple of years. TV shows have had characters in drag, from Bosom Buddies to RuPaul’s Drag Race. Several plays and musicals have men portraying women, such as La Cage Aux Folles, Rocky Horror Show, Forum, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Taboo and, of course, Rent. On celluloid, the list is endless, in such films as As You Like It, Tootsie, All of Divine’s and Tyler Perry’s movies, Mrs. Doubtfire, Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (also a stage musical), Too Wong Foo, and on and on.
And sometimes two entertainment genres will intertwine to become a whole new project. Such is the creation of Kinky Boots.
This new stage musical is adapted from the 2005 British-American film by the same name. The film is actually based on a true story. Now here’s a fun fact about one of the film’s stars. Chiwetel Ejiofor portrayed the role of Lola, the drag queen. His performance earned him a Golden Globe nod. He would later go on to play the lead role in the Academy Award-winning film, 12 Years of a Slave, which earned him an Oscar nod as well.
It was only a matter of time before this film would click its stilettos on the stage. The musical began its journey with a reading in 2011. In 2012 it had its world premiere in Chicago. Finally, it reached the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on Broadway in 2013. The musical would go on to earn thirteen Tony Award nominations, winning six, including the big one-Best Musical. One of those medallion trophies went to Cyndi Lauper for Best Score, her first time to compose a full Broadway score. She is the first woman in Tony Award history to win that award all alone, writing both music and lyrics.
The storyline, following pretty close to the film, is about Charlie Price who has inherited his father’s shoe factory, something he is not too thrilled about, as it was already under major financial straits. After soaking his problems at the local pub with his pal Harry, he is walking home only to see two thugs attack a woman, Charlie rushes as a shining knight in armor to save her. He does, kind of. This woman turns out to be Lola, a drag queen. This ebony goddess tells Charlie he wishes there were better crafted pumps and boots to fit a man’s foot. This give’s Charlie an epic idea from this kernel of a dream to save the factory. The straight factory owner and the gay drag star soon discover they have a lot in common and so begin a wonderful friendship with all its bumps and joy.
It now seems to be a requirement that each Broadway season brings musicals based on films, some finding the pot of golden success at the end of the rainbow while others vanish into dust. Two key ingredients to make a successful transition from film to stage are the book and score. In Kinky Boots, they not only found the pot of gold, but included a mountain of priceless artistic achievement to top all the riches.
Harvey Fierstein’s book closely follows the film with some tweaks and changes peppered here and there. I have said this before, but when I saw Fierstein perform on Broadway in the original company of his masterpiece play, Torch Song Trilogy (I was in high school!), his work as a playwright and actor changed my life forever. And it is very clear that Fierstein’s writing is still as deliciously wicked, sharp and biting, his sense of humor, with a dollop of camp, are all woven into his book for Kinky Boots. The book is bursting with lines that are met with waves of raucous laughter. Again, like his past work, he knows instinctively where to place the dramatic parts in his book. He doesn’t steer around the gritty, punch-in-the-gut painful, reality of life in his book. Instead, he takes the audience smack dab into all its raw emotion. There are scenes that will move you to tears. Fierstein is a pioneer in showing that gay people are just that, people, and not freaks. He’s done that over and over in his plays and books of other musicals. For Kinky Boots, he so wisely takes the audience on an honest, powerful journey to accept people as they are. He doesn’t rant, rage or pound messages, but he does tell the truth about the reality of being gay, and the sometimes difficulty in receiving approval, acceptance and love from family, friends, and strangers.
So many musicals that originated as films just fling the songs from the movie into a book in the hope that it sticks. Or, for jukebox musicals, they use the artists’ catalogues and construct a flimsy book around that. When I read Kinky Boots was becoming a musical with a score by Cyndi Lauper, I assumed she would simply choose from within her own music catalogue for the songs. Was I wrong! Lauper’s Kinky Boots score is all original music. And what a glorious potpourri of pop, rock, and soul she has created. There honestly is not a single song that is boring or vague. Or as I like to call them, “The restroom break song” – the kind that if you left real quick you didn’t miss anything. You do NOT want to miss a single song in Lauper’s illustrious, high-powered score. Each song is perfectly tailored to the book, giving it a depth of purpose and, more importantly, gives the character that sings the song richer development, subtext, and firmly grounds the arc within his or her characterization. Then there are her lyrics. Talk about subtext and seeing into the heart and soul of a character. Lauper captures that with her lyrics, and be they hysterically funny or leave a lump in your throat, they reach deep so that you see and feel as the character on stage. Thanks to the crisp, clean diction of every single performer on stage, you can hear every word.
Lauper’s score is like a buffet, you want to taste everything but you know it’s impossible. I never heard the score until the reviewed performance. I prefer that with new musicals. I wait to see the show before I buy the CD because I want to see and hear with a clean slate. If I had to pick my favorite songs in this epic-sounding score from the pop/rock icon, I would say “Land of Lola”, “This History of the Wrong Guys”, “Everybody Say Yeah”, “Not My Father’s Son”, “Soul of a Man”, “Hold Me in Your Heart”, and “Raise You Up/Just Be”. For musical theater fanatics, this score will quench your thirst for a real, rich, original musical score.
You can clearly hear why Stephen Oremus’ musical orchestrations won him the 2013 Tony Award. The underscore and layered textures of techno, piano, horn and percussion is simply sublime.
Kinky Boots is directed and choreographed by one of my personal favorites, Jerry Mitchell. This is the man who originated the idea of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids when he played the almost naked Native American dancer on that massive drum in the original production of Will Rogers Follies. He is our generation’s Tommy Tune and Michael Bennett. He acts, sings and dances, all of which played into his soaring success as one of Broadway’s most sought after directors/choreographers. He has several Tonys on his shelf, but now his work is legendary. From Hairspray to the La Cage Aux Folles revival, Kinky Boots is truly his crowning glory. The staging and blocking is rock solid, not a gap or hiccup found anywhere. He wisely knows where to allow the camp to explode like glitter cannons onto the audience. But when it comes to conflict or darker, more painful elements of the piece, Mitchell knows how to deliver truth and in-the-moment acting from his cast. The choreography for all his musicals are out-of-this-world dance creations and he again achieves success with Kinky Boots. The Angels, in particular, do some amazing acrobatic feats in the Act One closer that had the audience cheering loudly. It’s like Cirque du Soleil….but in heels!
David Rockwell’s scenic design is outstanding. The central piece is the shoe factory, with stain glass windows, iron gate, sliding walls and conveyer belts. An iron box frame unit center stage magically transforms into everything from an office to Lola’s stage at the club. Rockwell’s detailed set pieces glide off and on for each transition. But wait till you see what he has designed for the Milan shoe fashion show! I’ll let you discover that one on your own! As for the costume design by Gregg Barnes, all I could do was say, over and over again, “Oh WOW!” The factory workers are dressed as everyday warehouse employees. But his costumes for Lola and her Angels is where Barnes shines, creating masterpieces of material. Sitting close to the stage, I could see the incredibly intricate, finely detailed sequins, rhinestones, and beads. His color palette is an explosion of hues that I wonder if Barnes created those colors on his own! Each Angel has her own unique costume, but then again, a drag queen would NEVER wear the same outfit as the one next to her. Talk about a “Bitch stole my look” bloody battle! And so, it is a visual, carousal of costume magic each time Lola and the Angels appeared on stage. Get ready because Barnes pulls out all the stops for the Milan fashion show musical production number. To see the detail and craftsmanship of those shoes and boots is jaw dropping remarkable! They are works of art. Barnes is aided in completing his vision with Josh Marquette’s smashing wig designs and Randy Houston Mercer’s make-up design that had Lola and her Angels painted like the glamorous divas that they are. Kenneth Posner’s opulent lighting design really bathes the stage to give both book and score another layer of emotional strength. Several solos, such as the Act 2 power ballads by Charlie and Lola, are designed with spearing shards of light, adding more power to the song. Posner must have delighted in designing Lola’s club numbers with an array of LEDs, gobos and colorful swirling lights. Like Barne’s costumes and Rockwell’s set, wait till you see what Posner conceived for the Milan sequence.
On opening night, I was told by several cast members this was their 200th performance. And, due to the incredible success of the show, the tour is already booked through 2018!
The way this cast performs, you’d have thought it was the original opening night! Their energy sizzles and stays full throttle throughout. What I particularly enjoyed watching was how the ensemble each had their own bits and moments, and everyone is consistently in the moment along with the principals. Vocally, this top notch ensemble brings rich, robust vocals to Lauper’s music. The harmonies are crisp, crystal clear, and when belted, well, no body mics are needed is all I have to say!
Special kudos go to Mike Longo who portrays Harry, one of Charlie’s close friends. He has a sublime tenor voice that really makes the song, “Take What You Got” stand out.
On a side note, it was a delightful surprise to see Ross Lekites in this cast. Those who saw the incredibly powerful, national tour of West Side Story back in October 2011 at DSM saw Ross portraying the character Tony, a role which earned him critical praise. He is part of the magic that makes up the current Kinky Boots ensemble.
Joe Coots gives just enough seething hatred in playing Don, a factory worker who cruelly bullies Lola, but he wisely avoids becoming the cliché villain. A scene in Act 2 has the two men in a heart to heart talk about acceptance, and Coots allows his character arc to ebb from this transformation.
No tea, no shade hunty but Lola’s Angels are FIERCE! The six men are the drag queens that serve as Lola’s quintet of Supremes / Dreamettes. They are painted down to their glitter lashes, in wigs that are coiffed and teased to the heavens. And they get to wear the most lavish costumes and shoes! But then, they also have to sing, dance, and do splits, spins and flips, all in heels! They look physically gorgeous (or as said in the drag world, they are pure fish girls!). These insanely talented and hardworking men are Darius Harper, Tommy Martinez, Nick McGough, Ricky Schroeder, Juan Torres-Falcon, and Hernando Umana.
One of my all-time favorite productions at Dallas Theater Center was a new musical titled Give It Up! I gave it a rave review which was well deserved and earned. I said in that review that it demands to be on Broadway. And it did! Lindsay Nicole Chambers originated the role of Robin here in Dallas and was able to reprise her role in the Broadway production, which had changed its title to Lysistrata Jones.
I said Ms. Chambers was the scene stealer within the Give It Up cast, and here in Kinky Boots she does that yet again! She portrays Lauren, one of the shoe factory workers who knew Charlie since they were kids. Charlie promotes her to designer and producer of the Milan shoe fashion show. But then, Lauren gets a crush on Charlie, and Chambers has one of the show-stopping solos of the evening with “The History of Wrong Guys”. This girl knows her comedy! She’s like a combo platter of Lucille Ball, Martin Short and Joan Rivers. Her ability to find the comedic timing, pace and delivery in every lyric is like watching an artist in their element. From her physical comedy to her vocal attack on the song is side-splitting hysterical. Her chemistry with Steven Booth is buttery warm. I so wished they had a duet in the second act. Nevertheless, Chambers once again has proven why she is that rare find in leading women in today’s world of musical theater that can do it all.
Steven Booth portrays Charlie Price, a young man with a fiancée that wants the more luxurious things. They barely move into their London pad when he gets a call that radically changes his plans for his life. Booth has boyish features that helps set up his subtext and gives his characterization more strength as the son who didn’t meet his father’s expectations. Booth’s comedic chops snap, crackle and pop. His timing, pace and delivery hits their comedic mark every single time. This exceptionally talented actor also successfully handles the dramatic scene work within the book. He has a touching scene with Simon/Lola in, of all places, the men’s bathroom of the shoe factory. Watch Booth’s facial expressions as Simon sings; he shows through his eyes and face the exact same pain and disappointment. Later, there is a very heated argument between the two, and Booth buries himself in that anger, exploding like there was a bomb attached to his heart. He is simply riveting in that scene.
What an extraordinarily tenor voice Booth has. His voice belts high and beyond the fly rail above him. He has one hell of an 11 o’clock solo, “Soul of a Man”, that brought the house down! This magnificent ballad requires him to sustain a high A note (sounded like an A to me) for endless measures, lasting until the very cut off! That, my friends, is TALENT! Booth delivers a prodigious performance.
Simon aka Lola is portrayed by the very tall J. Harrison Ghee. As a man, he is handsome, and as a woman, she is so gorgeous, sexy, and va-va-voom. He devours and savors his character’s comedic scenes. Talk about how to nail a punch line again and again; he had the audience laughing so much he had to hold and stay in character until the laughter died down. And those facial expressions - just a tilt of an eye generated laughter – and I about fell out of my seat from laughing so hard. His British accent is perfection, allowing him to play with words to produce stronger guffaws.
However, Ghee instinctively knew he can’t be all camp and sass for his entire performance. Thus, his portrayal of Simon is so deeply heart breaking. His father was ashamed of Simon for wearing heels, and was bullied all his life. He has a stunning song, “Not My Father’s Son”, that he sings with Charlie. Ghee sheds his skin to show what this pain has caused him and his father. It will move you to tears. In Act Two Ghee has a powerhouse, show-stopping ballad, “Hold Me to Your Heart”. Dressed in layers of chiffon and gold beading, the gown has a separate piece that is attached to one arm, allowing Ghee to use the costume for dramatic effect within the music composition. Vocally, Ghee’s stunning tenor voice goes all over the scales, from lower notes to high, and he belts them to the back of the friggin’ house! After he finished this stunning ballad, he received a thunderous round of cheers and applause. I kept thinking that because of his wig, gown and the way the ballad is composed, it could be a Whitney Houston ballad in a heartbeat. I asked Ghee afterward how he vocally handles the role, as it requires him to go all over the vocal landscape, not simply in the notes but in sustaining them for never ending measures, and to shift in a second between the worlds of pop, soul, rock, and techno within his music. He replied, “Besides the usual techniques of saving my voice. I just have to stay at home, rest up (and he folded his arms like a mummy) and when I wake up, I sing a note (which he did), and if it’s there, I have a big sigh of relief!” Ghee is the star of this musical and I see great things in his future. You will NOT want to miss his phenomenal performance, because it is that special and memorable.
Kinky Boots is not your typical, campy, drag queen musical, nor does it hit you over the head with any agenda. It has such a beautiful message of friendship, love, and acceptance, from both people you know and society. Even with all the glitter, glitz and sequins, the message of love each other for who they are shines through.
I’ll end this review with two things that occurred at the performance - My guest saw the Broadway production of Kinky Boots and loved it, but after this production he said he thought this touring cast was much stronger than the one in New York, in particular the two male leads (Booth & Ghee). No disrespect to the Broadway company, but he said he laughed a lot more and really felt the emotion more from this touring cast.
There was also this man and woman sitting right in front of us. They held hands throughout the evening, and both laughed over and over, applauding Lola and the Angels in their numbers. I kept hearing the husband and wife whisper to each other, “I LOVE this show! I really do!” I could see they both were very moved by what they saw on stage.
Dallas Summer Musicals has come out of the gate for the 2015 season with another smash hit with Kinky Boots! And what a way to kick off a new season! It will be the hottest ticket in town-and deservedly so! When you go see the show make sure to wear Lola’s favorite color…….red!
Dallas Summer Musicals, The Music Hall at Fair Park
909 1st Avenue, Dallas, TX 75210
Plays through March 8, 2015
Content Warning: Suitable for audiences aged 12 and upwards.
Tuesday – Sunday at 7:30 pm, Saturday-Sunday matinee at 1:30 pm. There is an additional matinee on Thursday, March 5th at 1:30 pm, and there is no 7:30 pm performance on Sunday, March 8th.
Ticket prices range from $25.00 to $113.00, depending on the day and performance time.
Student rush tickets begin one hour before each performance. Students may purchase one (1) $25.00 ticket on a first come, first serve basis at the Music Hall Box Office. A valid student ID is required at the time of purchase. Groups of 10 or more receive a 15% discount, priority seating, and many other benefits. Call 214.426.GROUP (4768) or email Groups@DallasSummerMusicals.org.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.DallasSummerMusicals.org call 1.800.514.ETIX (3849), or go to The Box Office, 5959 Royal Lane, Suite 542, in Dallas. Season subscribers and other patrons who have questions about their tickets can call The Box Office at 214.691.7200.