Kinky Boots at TBTS- the Hit of the Summer

by Kimberly Rau

Theatre by the Sea closed its 2022 summer season with the Broadway hit Kinky Boots, and it ranks as one of the best shows they’ve done in a while, with one of the best casts they’ve assembled.

The plot: Charlie doesn’t really want to go into the family business making and selling men’s shoes in small-town England. He wants to follow his social climber fiancée, Nicola, to London, where she’s got a job lined up. Unfortunately, Dad has other plans and dies, leaving a floundering factory to Charlie, who has to find a way to get things in the black again or close up shop for good.

Enter Lola, the larger-than-life drag queen who’s biggest annoyance isn’t the men who harass her before her performances (she’s got a pretty good right hook for that). It’s the fact that the shoes she and her friends love the most can’t stand up to a man’s stature…and they’re still expensive. Charlie figures he can reach this niche audience and save his factory. In the process, he learns a lot about love, acceptance and the importance of being true to yourself, mostly thanks to Lola.

The story is heartwarming, if predictable. The tunes are fine, with some real showstoppers thrown in there. So what makes this production stand out from other shows with a good book and score?

Two things set it apart (for me) from the performance I saw in Providence some years ago. First, to my surprise, this is a show that really thrives in a smaller house. When you’re dealing with intimate things like feelings and self-exploration (as opposed to building a show around flashy effects and hyperbolically large sets), it’s easy for a show to feel lost on a huge stage. Kinky Boots doesn’t need much to get the audience where it needs to be, and, with Kyle Dixon and Jose Santiago designing the sets and lights, respectively, the show feels perfectly appointed at TBTS.

The second thing is the cast, under the direction of Kevin Hill. This was one of the best-cast shows I’ve seen in a long time (though I was out of town for Cinderella, which I heard was excellent). Luke Hamilton as Charles is unassuming at first, but a powerful force when his character is finally allowed to break out of its shell. Hamilton has a good, strong voice that’s best showcased in Soul of a Man in Act 2. Kat Gold as factory worker Trish wins over the entire audience with her near-perfect comedic timing and acting skills, as well as her fantastic voice (Her “The History of Wrong Guys” is one of the best numbers in Act 1). It’s a shame we don’t get to hear Hamilton and Gold duet more, but, of course, Charlie and Trish aren’t allowed to be together as long as Nicola is in the way, demanding over-priced shoes from her struggling fiancé.

But, of course, it’s really Lola’s show, and TBTS knocked it out of the park with Julian Malone. The second Lola steps on stage, it’s clear that Malone isn’t here to play around with this character. Through Malone, we’re able to see a lot of depth in Lola, including the moment where Lola gets a peek at Charlie’s first attempt at a fabulous boot. It’s maroon, not red. The heel is flat, not spiked. The boot isn’t nearly tall enough. In short, it’s dowdy, and Lola makes sure Charlie understands she won’t be satisfied with this underwhelming offering just because it’s what’s being offered. (Are we still talking about shoes, or the larger issues of representation in queer communities?) It’s a moment that could easily get lost in the shuffle, but Malone makes sure we don’t miss it.

Some of the musical numbers that really hit home include “Sex is in the Heel,” “Everybody Say Yeah” and “What a Woman Wants,” with a special mention going to “Hold Me in Your Heart,” Lola’s song for her father. They’re moving, passionate songs that keep the audience in thrall throughout the show. Pay special attention (as if you couldn’t) to Kevin Hill’s choreography, particularly any time the drag queen ensemble is on stage. This will be especially impressive to you if you’ve tried to do anything in stilettos, never mind pirouettes. And, not to be forgotten, this is one show that really needs its costumes to come through, and designer Gregg Barnes makes sure they do.

This is a well-rounded, moving, energetic show that will thoroughly entertain you, and, if you’re receptive to it, perhaps allow you some of your own moments of personal reflection. Either way, you’re in for a good evening.

Kinky Boots runs through Sept. 11 at Theatre by the Sea, 364 Cards Pond Rd., Matunuck. Tickets may be obtained at the box office, online at theatrebythesea.com or by calling 401.782.8587. Masks encouraged but not required.