- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 19, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Broadway smash “Kinky Boots” has trotted its optimistic footsteps into the Kennedy Center Opera House, where the Cyndi Lauper-composed musical about the rather unorthodox turnaround at a downtrodden English shoe factory will run until July 10.

With music and lyrics by Miss Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein (Newsies, La Cage Aux Folles), “Kinky Boots” tells the story of factory inheritor Charlie Price (an excellent Adam Kaplan), thrust into ownership when his father passes. With business all but disappearing, Charlie takes a gamble when Lola (J. Harrison Ghee, a born showman and absolutely stellar in the role) suggests that the gentlemen’s shoe builder can be saved if Charlie begins manufacturing high stilettos for Lola’s drag act. Reluctantly at first, Charlie agrees, and as his business model changes, so too do his perceptions of Lola, who also challenges Charlie’s blue-collar workforce to do the same — often to hilarious result.

Tiffany Engen (“Legally Blonde”) is Charlie’s long-suffering secretary who secretly loves him, and Miss Engen brings a rare verve, energy and stage vivacity to the often-thankless role of the fawning love interest.

Special mention must be made of Aaron Walpole, who in Don, the prototypical alpha male among Charlie’s workforce, brings an exaggerated machismo to his bullying clashes with Lola. Indeed, so steaming is Don’s bruised machismo at having a drag queen in their brotastic midst that he challenges Lola to a boxing match, whose result — and the reason it turns out the way it does — will surprise you.



Direction and choreography by Tony-winner Jerry Mitchell are first-rate. Mr. Mitchell makes ample use of the rather cavernous Kennedy Center stage, and his musical numbers are blocked so thoroughly and make such effortless use of the massive stage as to impossibly bring this rather fantastical tale down to earth. It’s no small feat, particularly given the show’s rather big numbers near the end, and the result is magical.

Mr. Ghee owns the show from start to finish with his presence and singing, although Mr. Kaplan, during his solo numbers, demonstrates a vocal mastery that reaches for the upper reaches of tenor-hood.

The book by Mr. Fierstein, such as it is, is entertaining if not precisely challenging. Its central premise — time-tested, if not particularly original — is that a little bit of understanding from one person to another goes a long way (“Can’t we all just get along?”), but it’s an especially timely one given recent horrible events in Orlando.

Miss Lauper’s songs are lively and sound as if they could have stepped right off of one of her ‘80s records, particularly the rousing show-closer, “Raise You Up.”

“Kinky Boots” provides a rousing good time at the theater and spectacle to spare — even if, from a messaging perspective, it is not especially magnanimous. But in dark times, sometimes a little optimism — and, yes, a little bit of understanding — can go the distance.

At the Kennedy Center Opera House through July 10. Tickets are $49 to $199 by going to Kennedy-Center.org or calling 202/467-4600.

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