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Kinky Boots
Book by Harvey Fierstein, Music and Lyrics by Cyndi Lauper
Original Broadway Direction and Choreography by Jerry Mitchell
Direction Re-Created by DB Bonds
Choreography Re-Created by Rusty Mowery
The Muny
June 19, 2019

Cast of Kinky Boots
Photo: The Muny

The Muny’s 101st season continues this week with the regional premiere of the Tony-winning musical Kinky Boots. With a score by pop legend Cyndi Lauper and a book by celebrated playwright/actor Harvey Fierstein, this is a bold, energetic and fun show, with a lot of style and heart. And the Muny has brought a great cast and dazzling production values to the stage, to boot.

The story, based on a 2005 British film that was inspired by a true story, tells of a surprising friendship and an unusual business venture. When Charlie Price (Graham Scott Fleming) inherits his family’s shoe factory upon the death of his father, he feels inadequate to live up to his father’s standards and run the failing factory, until he meets drag queen Lola (J. Harrison Ghee), who also has a backstory and a complicated relationship with paternal expectations. The two go into business, with Charlie as manufacturer and Lola as designer, but there are still complications as the two prepare to showcase the new “kinky boots” at a prestigious fashion show in Milan. For Charlie, he has to deal with a legacy of perfectionism as well as his ambitious fiancee, Nicola (Caroline Bowman), who wants him to give up the factory and move to London with her. There’s also Lauren (Taylor Louderman), a factory employee who grows closer to Charlie as they work together. For Lola’s part, there’s the memory of a strict, unaccepting father as well as factory worker Don (Paul Whitty) who continually gives Lola a hard time. It’s a fun show with a catchy score, featuring some poignant ballads like “Not My Father’s Son”  as well as some energetic production numbers such as “Sex Is In the Heel”, “Everybody Say Yeah”, and the uplifting, spirited finale “Raise You Up/Just Be”.

The production here is essentially a re-creation of the Broadway production, with original direction and choreography re-created, and with some key leading roles played by performers who have played the roles before. The cast is excellent, with Ghee as Lola especially strong, both vocally and in sheer presence. Ghee works well with the also excellent Fleming, who puts in a sensitive performance as the conflicted Charlie. Louderman also turns in a winning performance as Lauren, even though the character isn’t given a lot to do at times, but still, Louderman excels especially belting out Lauren’s solo “The History of Wrong Guys” and has good chemistry with Fleming’s Charlie. Other standouts include Whitty as the belligerent Don, and John Scherer in a fun comic turn as Charlie’s assistant at the factory, George. Also worthy of special mention the “Angels” (Callan Bergmann, Ian Fitzgerald, Valton Jackson, Jacob Lacopo, Michael Olaribigbe, Kyle Post, Ricky Schroeder, and Joey Taranto), who back up Lola in her nightclub act, and who exhibit a delightfully flashy, enthusiastic style.

The production values here are simply stunning, utilizing the newly renovated Muny stage with utmost flair. Michael Schweikardt’s set is colorful and versatile, complemented well by Shawn Duan’s video design. The costumes by Gregg Barnes are especially dazzling, suiting the characters from factory workers to drag queens with stylish detail. There’s also excellent lighting by Nathan W. Scheuer and a great Muny Orchestra and music direction by Ryan Fielding Garrett.

Kinky Boots is, above all, a show with energy and heart. It portrays a growing friendship with poignancy and charm, as well as dealing with father/son relationships, romance, acceptance of differences, and more. It’s an upbeat and highly entertaining production from the Muny, and another remarkable success for a so-far stellar 101st season.

Cast of Kinky Boots
Photo: The Muny

The Muny is presenting Kinky Boots in Forest Park until June 25, 2019

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On Your Feet! The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical
Book by Alexander Dinelaris
Featuring Music Produced and Recorded by Emilio & Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine
Directed by Jerry Mitchell
Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo
The Fox Theatre
November 7, 2017

Mauricio Martinez, Christie Prades
Photo by Matthew Murphy
On Your Feet! National Tour

The latest national tour at the Fox is a tuneful crowd-pleaser. On Your Feet! is another in the growing genre of “jukebox bio-musicals”, in the vein of Jersey Boys, Beautiful, and more. This time, the subject is the music and life of Latin-pop music icons Gloria and Emilio Estefan, following their story and featuring many of their well-known hits. With a great cast and an excellent soundtrack, this national tour of the recent Broadway production is an entertaining tribute and a compelling story.

While it’s billed as “The Emilio and Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical”, the focus of the story here is primarily on Gloria (Christie Prades), as well as her personal and professional relationship with musician, producer, and her eventual husband Emilio (Mauricio Martinez). The story follows Gloria as a young child growing up in Miami, where she and her family immigrated from Cuba. Her relationships with her father, Jose Fajardo (Jason Martinez), her grandmother Consuelo (Alma Cuervo), and her mother, also named Gloria (Nancy Ticotin). The young Gloria (Amaris Sanchez and Carmen Sanchez, alternating in the role) starts out playing songs on her guitar, and then grows up  taking care of her father as he suffers the progressive effects of MS. She’s not intending a career in music at first, but her grandmother contacts Emilio, who is part of a popular local act called the Miami Latin Boys, and Gloria and her younger sister Rebecca (Claudia Yanez) go to his house for an audition. Eventually, Gloria becomes the lead singer of the band, which gains fame under its new name, Miami Sound Machine, in various countries and crossing over from the Latin market to the Pop market. The show, punctuated with hits like “Anything for You”, “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” and the rousing “Conga”, follows the couple’s rise to international fame as well as personal challenges in relationships with Gloria’s family, and Gloria’s fight to regain her health after a devastating tour bus crash, culminating in her celebrated “comeback” performance of “Coming Out of the Dark” on the American Music Awards broadcast in 1991.

This is a well-produced show, with strong production values including David Rockwell’s versatile set, Emilio Sosa’s detailed costumes, Kenneth Posner’s dazzling lighting, and striking projection design by Darrel Maloney. There’s also vibrant, energetic choreography by Sergio Trujillo, and an engaging book by Alexander Dinelaris that emphasizes the importance of family history and relationships in the Estefans’ lives. The music is the main attraction, with hit after hit well-performed by this excellent cast, but it’s not just a concert. There’s a compelling story here, as well.

The cast is uniformly strong, led by the dynamic, strong-voiced Prades as Gloria, who is well-matched by Martinez in a solid, amiable performance as Emilio. The strength of their relationship is an important part of this story, and both of these two make that relationship work with their excellent chemistry. There are also memorable performances from Cuervo as Gloria’s supportive, persistent grandmother Consuelo, Ticotin as the loving but sometimes overprotective mother Gloria Fajardo, and Jason Martinez as Gloria’s father Jose. The whole cast is strong in support, as well, with an excellent singing and dancing ensemble, helping to bring this story, and the music from the chart-topping hits to lesser-known songs, to life with energy and style.

Although On Your Feet! is going to appeal especially to fans of the Estefans and Miami Sound Machine, the story and music are compelling enough to entertain even those who may not be as familiar with the music. There’s an energetic “Megamix” finale that lives up to the title, as well, bringing the audience member to their feet. It’s a crowd-pleaser in the best sense of that term.

Cast of On Your Feet!
Photo by Matthew Murphy
On Your Feet! National Tour

The National Tour of On Your Feet! The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical is running at the Fox Theatre until November 19, 2017.

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