Review: Kinky Boots (Mirvish)

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Kinky Boots, Cyndi Lauper-penned musical, “earn[s] every spangle” on the Toronto stage

There are regular-duty opening nights at the theatre – gowns, gays, glamour – and then there’s the extra-strength version that develops at the Royal Alexandra when Cyndi Lauper‘s in town for the opening of her totally charming, irrepressible musical with Harvey FiersteinKinky Boots. Not a sequin was wasted on a lackluster performance, though – Kinky Boots has earned every spangle on display (which, I do not believe anyone will be startled to hear, is quite a fair few).

Here’s the thing about the musical Kinky Boots–it is a high-energy, High Camp, completely spectacular situation that almost, but not entirely, disguises the very tender core of the show. At the end of the day, Kinky Boots is musical about who we choose. Who do we choose to stand with, or stand up for; who is our family? For whom we will be there for in the clutch?

In the Mirvish production, this spoon full of sugar is delivered with… an even bigger spoon full of sugar, served from a very nicely spangled spoon. The Toronto cast, led by Alan Mingo, Jr and Graham Scott Fleming (as Lola and Charlie respectively), really makes the most of both the score and costuming. I enjoyed them both separately, but I found them especially well-cast together – a certain amount of tender chemistry between Charlie and Lola makes for a much better show.

This production also has some superb character actors: James Kall as George the company manager had all manner of surprises and delights in store for us across the show while maintaining a steadying presence. Daniel Williston as Don the bombastic, salt-of-the-earth lathe operator who gives all the uncomfortable straight men in the audience someone with whom to identify (for a while, anyhow). I also adored AJ Bridel as Lauren, in a really remarkable display of awkward girl-next-doorless that was right on the edge of overdone but never teetered over, not even for a second.

Seeing Kinky Boots during Pride weekend was both jarring and familiar, in that it was clearly to some degree an extremely well-funded drag show with very high production value – and to be clear, I mean that as a compliment. Mainstream generated performances of queer lives are often filtered through a heterosexual lens in ways that feel uncomfortable to me: cast queens with huge biceps so we “know” they’re men, make endless sly sport of them, in order to make them more “amusing” to the a mainstream (read: heterosexual) audience.

One of the things I enjoyed about this production of the musical is how ruthlessly director Jerry Mitchell has eradicated even the breath of that. And, of course, the brilliant book by Harvey Fierstein leaves so little room for that anyway – listening to the dialogue, I could hear Fierstein speaking across generations, his writing as much like a love bite after which the sting gets kissed away as it has always been. I had goosebumps several times.

After the show – after the stomping and chair-dancing and smiling in recognition (though not a whole ton of singing along) and the general fun was done – I walked home thinking about whether I had criticisms of Kinky Boots to share. But for once, I wasn’t feeling especially critical, but rather borne aloft and carried away on the deep sweetness of the evening. Ultimately, that feels like the most useful thing I could tell you.

Details

  • Kinky Boots plays at the Royal Alexandria Theatre (260 King St W) until Sept 27th.
  • Performances are Tuesday through Sunday at 8pm, with matinees at 2pm on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.
  • Ticket prices range from $45 to $150, with occasional discount available.
  • Tickets can be had online, in person at the Royal Alexandria Theatre, or by calling the box office at 416.872.1212

Photo of the cast by Cylla von Tiedeman.