You are here
Home > Arts > REVIEW: Jos N. Banks Shines in Kinky Boots Tour (Ordway)

REVIEW: Jos N. Banks Shines in Kinky Boots Tour (Ordway)

The cast of the Kinky Boots national tour. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

If you were considering seeing Kinky Boots and thinking “yes, but” or”it’s cold, and April is the cruelest month, so I’m just going to skip this one,” change your mind. Really, even if you’ve seen the show before, change your mind and go see this show. Jos N. Banks as Lola is that glorious.

The secret to resurrecting the family business in Kinky Boots lies in this picture – and the show title.

Kinky Boots is one of those musicals based on a true story that made its way to film and then to the stage. Its two lead characters unexpectedly find each other in England’s East Midlands region: a drag queen and the young heir to a financially failing shoe factory. Together, they figure out a way to rescue the business.

This is the third visit of the Kinky Boots Broadway tour to the Twin Cities, and it is still a sweet, lush, heartfelt, spangle mirror ball of joy. Director Jerry Mitchell signed up first; Fierstein was a natural pick as writer – he won his first Tony for Torch Song Trilogy, about a drag queen torch singer in New York City, and was also the book writer for Le Cage Aux Folles. (He is also the author of Newsies, currently playing in Chanhassen.) Cindy Lauper made her Broadway songwriting debut with this show, walking away with a Tony Award for Best Score. All told, the show racked up 6 Tony Awards, and has packed houses in New York and on the road ever since.

It is such a delightful show and if the plot’s is perhaps predictable, it serves its purpose. Charlie Price (Lance Bordelon) is young, nervous, and insecure; his father (Jeffrey B. Duncan) would love for him to take over the Price and Sons shoe factory, but Charlie’s fiancée Nicola (Hayley Lampart) wants him to come to London and take up real estate marketing. After convincing his father that the latter is his great dream, Charlie takes off to the big city and shuts the door forever on the shoe biz – or so he thinks. Six months later, though, his father has passed away and left the factory – and responsibility for its employees – in Charlie’s’ hands. What’s a lad to do? Charlie returns north, only to discover that his new-to-him company hasn’t turned a profit for years and on the brink of bankruptcy. The senior Mr. Price, it seems, just didn’t have the heart to put the workers on the dole.

Unlikely partners Charlie Price (Lance Bordelon) and Lola (Jos N. Banks) join forces. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Charlie is so afraid of confrontation that Don (Adam du Plessis, great), his leather puncher, barely takes him seriously when he stammers that he needs to fire him. What Charlie needs to do, counsels Lauren (Sydney Patrick), a warm but no-nonsense employee, is to ask himself whether poor sales might have something to do with the fact that there is no longer a market for well-made but stylistically mundane brown and black loafers and flats. They need a new idea. Then, during some freelance shoe repair, Lola says he wishes someone would make pretty ladies shoes that could support a man of his size. Eureka!

Of course, it takes Charlie some time to realize that dull flat-heeled matte knee-high leather boots are not what Lola has in mind: “Please, Lord, tell me I’ve not inspired something burgundy!” For one thing, Lola wants red (“the color of sex”) boots and, like the other “Angels” (drag performers at the club call ), she wants heels. Serious heels. Six inches of them. Six sketches of beautiful, bright-toned, shiny knee-high boots, Charlie realizes that he has discovered that Lola is a born design genius. Soon, he lures Lola away from the club to Northampton with an offer to be chief shoe designer of Price and Sons. The pair make “kinky” boots, save the factory, etc, etc. It’s the relationships between characters that are at the center of the play. The deep, layered, sometimes rocky, but ultimately loving friendship that develops between Lola and Charlie is at the heart of the show, as they find that they are very much the same after all.

Of course there’s topical content – trans phobia, the art and joy of drag performance, sexism, factory closings, etc. – but the treatment is mostly lite. Fierstein apparently made the conscious choice to “keep any political or social reference out because you like to think the show will be around forever.” Which isn’t to say that the play has no depth, but rather it keeps our eyes focused on the emotional lives of the characters and their journeys of self-discovery. The motif of transformation binds the various narratives together: the transformation of perspectives, gender identities, families, and even conceptions of happiness and personhood.

You can hear the sonic beat and pop of Lauper’s 80s hits in the score, though admittedly there was only one tune I could recall the next morning. Fierstein’s dialogue is funny and soulful, with lots of gentle sarcasm without cynicism. He gives most of the good one-liners to Lola, though Don (a clueless and blustery, but ultimately decent employee) gets a handful as well. Although the melodies are ephemeral, watching Kinky Boots is a continuous pleasure, satisfying in all the ways that a great big, sparkly Broadway musical should be.

Now I need to talk about Jos N. Banks. Simply put (and in honor of the opening of baseball season), he knocks it out of the park. Banks has a powerful set of pipes and a vocal range to die for. As Lola, he is at turns strong or gentle, sassy or vulnerable, and dreamy or commanding. He brought down the house twice on Tuesday night, first with the tender ballad, “Not My Father’s Son,” by far the most moving and most memorable song of Lauper’s score. The second set him under the spotlight in a delicate, thin-strapped gold dress, belting out “Hold Me in Your Heart.”

A scene from the national tour of Kinky Boots. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Lance Bordelon is also terrific as Charlie. Bordelon nails Charles’s great declaration of independence, “Soul of a Man”, in which the young shoe manufacturer finally accepts that he can’t live his life according to other peoples’ ideas of who he should be. His nebbishy Charlie is a lovable teddy bear.

Every detail of the music, the performance, and the direction is richly integrated and supports the general themes of self-realization and the beauty of difference. Although the six “Angels” dance as a group, Mitchell gives each of the dancers their own moment to show off their specialties, whether it’s splits and or triple pirouettes. All six dancers are astonishingly good and fun to watch (though I could not help thinking of Hillary when one of the Angels does a backflip in 6-inch heels).

The scenic and costume designs are also wonderfully in sync with the music and dancing. Did I mention the dance on the walking treadmills to resemble the factory assembly line in the cheery-beery Act I finale, “Everybody Say Yeah“? Greg Barnes dresses the catwalk-strutting Angels in stunning lace and patent leather and metallic leotards with Ziegfeld Follies-like headdresses and, of course, the fabulous, thigh-high high-heeled boots. Each dancer has a unique look and color scheme; when they spread across the stage, they are beautiful. Like a rainbow.

Kinky Boots plays through April 8 at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul, MN.

Kit Bix

Kit Bix is a writer, educator, theatre artist, and producer in the Twin Cities. She also writes about theatre and the arts for Talkin' Broadway, Minnesota Playlist, and TCJewfolk. She is a proud member of the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers.
Top