What’s so hard about peace, love and understanding?
The exceptionally enjoyable new musical at Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse, “Kinky Boots,” asks this — among many tough questions, like, can’t we all just get along? Through tremendously powerful song, dance, acting and emotion, this beautiful, humane show proves the importance of acceptance, tolerance, teamwork and compassion.
With a Tony-winning score by Cyndi Lauper and book by multiple Tony winner Harvey Fierstein, "Kinky Boots" tells the aspirational story of two men who at first seem to have nothing in common.
In a run-down, small English town, humble Charlie Price (played by Circa veteran and 31-year-old Iowa City native Michael Penick) has reluctantly inherited his father's failing shoe factory. Trying to live up to his father's legacy and save his business, Charlie finds inspiration in drag star Lola, who needs sturdy stilettos.
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Embodied with titanic grit, determination and flamboyance by Malik Harris, the irrepressible 25-year-old Georgia native makes an extraordinary Quad-Cities debut as Simon — the man who's most at home in fabulously colorful, dazzling dresses, a variety of tresses, heavy makeup and high heels (as one lyric goes, “Life seemed brighter 6 inches off the ground”).
The stunning show — here directed by Seth Reines, music directed by Travis Smith and choreographed by Christie Kerr — has it all, including a difficult fiancee for Charlie (the solid Savannah Bay Strandin), who argues with him about their future; and chauvinistic factory worker Don (an excellent Mitchell Matyas), who disagrees with Lola about what makes an attractive man.
Lola tells Don women want sensitivity and compassion, traits he eventually learns, after an entertaining, slow-motion boxing match that's a big production number in Act II.
Highlights abound, including the literally red-hot "Sex Is In The Heel"; the very cute, sympathetic "History of Wrong Guys" from Lauren (an enthusiastic Brittany Church), who's got a crush on Charlie; the touching bond of "Not My Father's Son" by Lola and Charlie, and the exuberant, infectious group number, "Everybody Say Yeah." And that's all in Act I.
Penick pours out his heart in the pleading, intense "Soul Of A Man," as does Harris in "Hold Me In Your Heart" (in a dazzling white gown), in the second half.
Costume designer Greg Hiatt does his usual stellar job, handling the plethora of amazing outfits original to Broadway, and his own original factory clothes with equal aplomb. The upbeat, fun finale "Raise You Up/Just Be" naturally raises the audience to its feet, dreaming we could live in such a world of joy.