Review: National tour of ‘Kinky Boots’ makes a statement at Place des Arts

The cast of the touring company of ‘Kinky Boots’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy | Broadway Across Canada)

The six-time Tony® Award-winning musical that took Broadway by storm in 2013 and went on to become one of its biggest hits worldwide has at last arrived in Montreal. Presented by Broadway Across Canada and evenko, the North American touring company of KINKY BOOTS plays at Place des Arts for an all-too brief one-week engagement this January as it lives up to its crowd-pleasing reputation in a spectacular stage show of song and dance.


Co-written by superstar songstress Cyndi Lauper (music and lyrics) and Broadway veteran Harvey Fierstein (book), Kinky Boots is based on the 2005 true story-inspired film of the same name by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth. Set in the working-class town of Northampton, England, it follows the story of Charlie Price (Curt Hansen) as he attempts to save the family business he inherited from his father – The Price & Son shoe factory – from imminent closure.

The fresh-faced and strait-laced successor, struggling to give his downcast employees the boot in the wake of the company’s financial and commercial crisis, suddenly finds a godsend in the form of drag queen extraordinaire Lola (J. Harrison Ghee) and her sky-high-kicking Angels.

A chance encounter at a cabaret act in a London club (“Land of Lola”) sparks in Charlie a glistening and glimmering idea to shake things up in the shoe industry: to manufacture fabulous, feminine, custom-made footwear for a niche market – drag queens. A most unlikely collaboration between our two heroes then forms as Lola is invited by Charlie to become the designer for Price & Son’s new line of sturdy, sexy six-inch heels to soon be unveiled to the fashion world on the catwalks of Milan.

The undertaking is not seamless, however, with both Charlie and Lola facing resistance from small-minded factory workers, but they soon bond in learning of each other’s shared human trials and tribulations. In the confessional, soul-searching duet “Not My Father’s Son”, Lola is stripped of her glitz and glamour – quite figuratively and literally – rendering one of the most emotionally heightening and grounding moments of the show.


J. Harrison Ghee as Lola

The two protagonists’ journey from industrial England to the runways of Italy is the thread that tightly laces up Kinky Boots, but the show clearly belongs to the larger-than-life leading lady Lola who has found a most ethereal embodiment in triple-threat J. Harrison Ghee. Fierce, brazen, and immediately likeable, his dynamite Lola is everything one would hope it to be, and his towering stage presence is something of a marvel in itself. A vision in white, his rapturous rendition of eleven o’clock number “Hold Me In Your Heart” was one of the most thrilling moments of musical theatre we’d ever experienced, and the opening night audience seemed to have unanimously agreed, treating him to what was perhaps the longest ovation we’d witnessed in our theatregoing days. It was an Effie-meets-Beyoncé-meets-Whitney diva moment that’ll go to the books… thoroughly triumphant and transcendent in every regard.

Ghee had bright and big shoes to fill in the wake of Billy Porter’s award-winning performance as the original Lola, but with his powerhouse pipes, comic edge, and easy vulnerability, dare we say he stands categorically and most mightily on his own.

Co-star Curt Hansen as the clean-cut, pragmatic Charlie Price is right up there with Ghee in the voice, dance, and acting departments, but it’s difficult not to be overshadowed by a figure of such exuberant and magnetic personality. Hansen’s Charlie takes some warming up to, but he manages to convincingly capture his own character’s professional and personal growth with each number and fully rises to the occasion with his big, belty Act II solo, “Soul of a Man” (we were nostalgically transported back to his supernatural stint as Gabe in the rock musical Next to Normal.)


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Rose Hemingway brings to effervescent life the giddy and quirky Lauren, an unlucky-in-love factory floor worker who inspires and develops a crush on Charlie despite his engagement to the ambitious, sophisticated Nicola, here played with astuteness by Katerina Papacostas. Both supporting actresses maximize their limited stage time and make the most of their underdeveloped characters and subplots – we left our seats only wholly wishing to have seen and heard from them more.

Hemingway’s whimsical and offbeat “History of Wrong Guys” is highly reminiscent of its own kooky composer who, in Kinky Boots, made her debut as a musical theatre songwriter. Grammy and Emmy award-winning artist Cyndi Lauper has provided the eclectic music and lyrics for the piece, those of which earned her the 2013 Tony Award for Best Original Score. Between power ballads and synthesized club tunes, the show has a notable ’80s feel to it. Some of the songs are forgettable, others are thoroughly uplifting, but what better advocate perhaps for celebrating one’s “True Colours”?

Choreographer Jerry Mitchell’s notorious high energy oozes in numbers such as the Act II finale “Raise You Up”, the inventive and complex conveyer belt sequence “Everybody Say Yeah“, and “In This Corner”, a staged boxing match between Lola’s alter ego Simon and Don (Aaron Walpole), a testosterone-fueled factory employee who sees Lola as a threat to his masculinity. Then, “Sex is in the Heel”, featuring Lola and her formidable posse of six strapping, leggy Angels doing the unthinkable in heels, is one to give even RuPaul’s Drag Race gals a run for their money. The syncopated movements of the choreography are form-fitting to Lauper’s score and to the industrial theme of the show.

Noteworthy design elements include David Rockwell’s mobile, detailed, but deceptively simple sets and smooth transitions, Gregg Barnes’ dazzling costumes of leather, sequins, and sparkles galore, and Kenneth Posner’s vibrant and keenly felt lighting of neon, strobe, and everything in between.

Broadway legend Harvey Fierstein (who most recently reprised his iconic, Tony award-winning performance as Edna Turnblad this past December in NBC’s TV special Hairspray Live!) has given Lola breadth and depth in his spirited script, but, alas, the book is perhaps the weakest link with its clichés, stereotypical stock characters, and all-too predictable plot. Other low points to mention in the two-hour affair: inconsistent accents, unintelligible lyrics, and a second half that fails to sustain the irresistible momentum of the first.



Loud and proud winner of the 2013 Tony Award for Best Musical, however, the show remains undeterred by the aforementioned kinks. Kinky Boots is as feel-good fun as it possibly gets (the closest we came to feeling this sunny this winter season was at the Segal Centre’s Prom Queen, another musical with the “be true to who you are” leitmotif. Loyal local theatregoers may also recall Billy Elliot, which pranced into Place des Arts precisely three years ago, for its similar subject matter and British blue-collar setting – but the current incumbent leads the parade).

And, despite its rather suggestive title, Kinky Boots is tasteful and eloquent in sensitively capturing the vulnerabilities of men struggling to ascertain their own identities in a world of social norms and gendered expectations – notably those established by their own families. A story of the outsider, it makes more than just a fashion statement, passionately promoting and delivering pearls of wisdom on acceptance, solidarity, tolerance, diversity, and self-discovery. It’s empowering, relevant, and heart-rending. Montreal leapt to its heels at the final beat – and genuinely so.

“Ladies, gentlemen, and those who are yet to make up their mind” – find yourselves the resolve to embrace and see one of the finest touring productions we have had the privilege to receive here yet.

Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Editor-in-Chief Camila Fitzgibbon


Kinky Boots – presented by evenko and Broadway Across Canada – continues its limited run at Place des Arts’ Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier (175 Rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest, Montreal, H2X 3X5) until Sunday, January 8th, 2017.

Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes, with one 20-minute intermission.

Tickets are $32 – 102 and can be purchased online at www.placedesarts.ca or by calling the Box Office at 514 842-2112 / 1 866 842-2112 (toll-free). More details on the show can be found at www.kinkybootsthemusical.com.

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