To Thine Own Self Be True

Roderick Cotton (L) and Billy Ferguson (R) star in ‘Kinky Boots’

After the sudden death of his father, Charlie Price reluctantly returns home to take over control of the family shoe factory only to learn that it’s on the verge of collapse.  A chance meeting with a drag queen named Lola inspires Charlie to create women’s style shoes and boots for men in an attempt to save the family business.  Will Kinky Boots be enough to save Price & Son?  Find out at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

The dominating theme of this story is acceptance.  Acceptance of others and acceptance of one’s self.  And it’s this theme that gives the show some needed heft because the actual story is a little thin on plot.  Harvey Fierstein’s script, based off the film script of Geoff Deane and Tim Firth, actually sets the table nicely.  But it fails to adequately wrap up the story of the factory as well as a subplot regarding Lola and her father. 

What it lacks in story is more than made up for in characterizations and a jamming score from Cyndi Lauper.  When you combine that with the little intangibles of a live performance, you get a fun-filled rocker of a night.

Stephen Santa has a grand directorial debut with this show.  Santa seized on the show’s key theme and made certain the scenes (and there’s a lot of them) that support that theme got the needed emotional muscle to sell them.  He cuts a great pace and led his actors to nuanced performances, even down to little character quirks.  His staging was impeccable and makes good use of space, especially the factory scenes where things are always hustling and bustling.

The ensemble always remained present in the scenes which adds that crucial element of reality to the show, but this particular production also has a plethora of character roles.  Some of the shining stars of the night are Jon Hickerson as the factory bully, Don, who thinks he knows what it means to be a real man, but gets his own little arc where he truly learns the meaning of the word.  Hannah Rembert is stuck up as Charlie’s snooty fiancée, Nicola.  Megan Kelly nails it as Lauren and really shines with her number, “The History of Wrong Guys”, where she had the audience roaring with her hot and bothered dance moves.

Billy Ferguson is a very worthy Charlie Price.  Charlie is a very aimless character at the show’s start.  Ferguson presents that well by not being very animated because Charlie simply isn’t that passionate about anything.  But as he finds his passion, Ferguson starts conjuring some real fire from his belly as Charlie becomes nearly obsessed with creating “kinky boots” and saving the factory.  Ferguson also has a wonderful tenor and knows how to emote through a song.  He hits some real home runs with the dramatic tunes, especially “I’m Not My Father’s Son” and “Soul of a Man”.

If you didn’t know Roderick Cotton before this show, you certainly won’t forget him afterwards.  Cotton owns the role of Lola/Simon.  In some ways, it’s almost like watching Jekyll and Hyde as Lola is Simon’s escape.  Lola is larger than life and happy and free.  But Simon is the pain and prison from which Lola wants to escape.  Cotton does marvelous work balancing the two sides of this coin.  As Lola, he is always theatrical, on, and feminine, even speaking in a higher pitch.  When he’s Simon, he’s more serious, professional, and masculine, lowering the timbre of his voice.  Watching Lola/Simon make peace with each other is one of the show’s most satisfying arcs.

And leave us not forget Cotton’s own formidable tenor which he uses to suit the emotional moment of any scene.  Cotton’s Lola comes out roaring with “The Land of Lola” and sizzles with a lusty energy in “Sex is In the Heel”.  But he can be equally serious such as splendid turns in “I’m Not My Father’s Son” and “Hold Me In Your Heart”.

Lindsay Pape’s costumes are almost their own characters in this show especially with the over the top performing clothes of Lola and her Angels (and, of course, Lola’s hip high, bright red kinky boots).  The factory employees are always dressed in white coats or aprons.  Charlie’s buttoned up dress shirt and tie reflect his wound up personality.  Jim Boggess and his orchestra do some superlative work with this score.  It’s not only played well, but you can hear the fun they’re having with it.  Michelle Garrity and Sheldon Ledbetter provide some very clever and fun choreography with highlights being “Everybody Say Yeah” and “The Most Beautiful Thing”.  Jim Othuse has designed a good warehouse for Price & Son with its brick exterior and fully functioning factory interior with other pieces of furniture and signs sliding in and out with ease for scene changes and these get a further boost from Andrew Morgan’s properties.  Aja Jackson’s lights enhance the moments and pack some emotional punches with “Charlie’s Sad Soliloquy” and “Hold Me In Your Heart”.

The preview night performance did need a little bit of time to get going.  There was some trouble with microphone volume at the beginning and the energy and animation was a little low to start, but once they got going and the volume issues were fixed, it was a really fun performance.  I also want to give the cast bonus points for not being distracted by some audience members whose etiquette left something to be desired at various points.

This show is going to be a real crowd pleaser especially when the intangible x factors are in place and running full steam.  It’s fun.  It’s got heart.  And it teaches an important message about acceptance and being true to one’s own self.

Kinky Boots runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through June 26. Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased by calling 402-553-0800, visiting www.omahaplayhouse.com, or at the box office.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

Photo provided by Robertson Photography