Well, Buffalo is a factory town. Road Less Traveled’s recent production of Sweat gave us a grim reminder of what happens when a factory is on the brink. Suffice it to say, that Buffalo hasn’t seen the likes of Price & Son, the factory at the soul of Kinky Boots, MusicalFare Theatre’s production on stage at Shea’s 710 Theatre.
The story is based on an actual situation which happened in the UK in 1999: a family-owned maker of men’s dress shoes was about to go under when the owner discovered an under-served market for fine footware: drag queens. Tweaking the business plan kept workers on at the plant and restored profitability. This inspired the 2005 film Kinky Boots written by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth which then inspired Harvey Firestein to write the stage show with Cyndi Lauper writing original music and lyrics in 2013. As I am wont to say, I usually don’t care for movies on stage, but this show is so irrepressible, it would be hard to dislike it. Most importantly, there’s a powerful message of inclusion, acceptance, personal freedom, and self-love that shines through, particularly in Lauper’s Tony-winning lyrics.
Everything about this production was a delight, from the cast, to the band, to the choreography and plenty of stage magic. The show opens as Papa Price (John Fredo) is extolling the virtue of traditional footware to his young son Charlie (Daniel Pitirri), while Simon’s Papa (Vincenzo McNeill) is less than impressed with his son Simon’s (Oliver Parzy-Sanders) fascination with a bright red pair of pumps. Fast forward a bunch of years, and the young adult Charlie (Steve Copps) doesn’t think that shoes are the most beautiful thing in the world, so (much like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life), he leaves the family business behind for big city life. His father’s death draws him home. A chance encounter with grown up Simon, now drag queen Lola (Lorenzo Shawn Parnell) and a conversation with one of his employees (Bethany Burrows) who is about to lose her job, spark the idea to build shoes that support a manly body type when he’s in drag. From here, the story is a really a journey, and it’s a beautiful one.
The entire cast is stellar, from the young actors playing Charlie and Simon/Lola as children to the shoe factory workers who rally to make sharp and spiky boots where there’s plenty of sex in the heel. Look and listen for Artie Award recognized actors like Charmagne Chi, Dan Urtz, Doug Weyand, and Dave Spychalski among the factory workers, and Lola’s back up singers/dancers known as the Angels in drag Marc Sacco, Johnny Kiener, Collin McKee, and David Pieffer.
Copps wins hearts as he stumbles – literally – down a non-traditional path, and it’s Parnell who puts the soul in boot making with the poignant “I’m Not My Father’s Son” and “Hold Me in Your Heart” ballads. Beautiful musical moments for sure. In between the powerful messages about inclusion and belonging there are delectably in-your-face proofs about the pure joy of loving what you do, who you are, and who you’re with on the journey. As the song says, “you change the world when you change your mind.”
Kinky Boots runs under two hours with a 15-minute intermission, to May 21, which includes some extra performances. Grab tickets fast at sheas.org.