Kinky Boots national touring company

Kinky Boots national touring company. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

A second engagement by the National touring company of the Tony Award winning 2013 Best Musical Kinky Boots high-kicked its way to the stage of the 5th Avenue theatre last week. It proved this drag musical is ANYTHING but a drag, as the opening night audience heartily embraced it.

Grammy® Award winning pop icon Cyndi Lauper and four-time Tony Award® winner Harvey Fierstein’s successful and well received adaptation of a sleeper-hit British film comedy concerns a Charlie Price, a mild-mannered 4th generation Northampton, England fellow who has suddenly inherits his father’s shoe factory while it’s on the verge of bankruptcy. Trying to live up to his father’s legacy and save his family business, and much against the wishes of his fiancée Nicola, Charlie finds inspiration in the form of Lola, aka Simon, a fabulous entertainer in need of some sturdy stilettos. Lola turns out to be the one person who can help Charlie become the man he’s meant to be. With support from Lauren (the zany girl you just know is Charlie’s real soul-mate) and George (an older, closeted gay employee) they turn the factory around, in the process find they have more in common than they ever dreamed possible. Despite antagonism towards Lola from rough-hewn factory worker Don, and travails on the way to a Milan fashion show, this is a wispy, heart-on-its-sleeve musical, all glittered up and ready to sing and dance its way into your heart. A soul-sister to Fierstein and Jerry Herman’s La Cage Aux Folles, with Lauper’s Just Be Who You Want to Be as a musical descendant of Herman’s I Am What I Am.

Kicking those famous red boots high as a kite as Lola, and tugging heartstrings as Simon, J. Harrison Ghee is simply splendid throughout. He’s a born headliner who nicely contrasts with Adam Kaplan’s lovably low-key Charlie. Diminutive and darling Tiffany Engen is smashing as Lauren, and really sells her big number (and my favorite in the score) The History of Wrong Guys, as well as having great chemistry with Kaplan’s Charlie. Aaron Walpole is strong as Don, the factory blowhard who redeems himself. TV sitcom (Too Close for Comfort) vet Jim J. Bullock is rather unrecognizable but sweetly comic and endearing as George. Charissa Hogeland gives some shading to the underwritten role of Nicola. The female ensemble members are brash and sassy, and those in the male ensemble, especially those who portray Lola’s cast mates, are sublime.

Tony Award winner Gregg Barnes’ costume design is as technicolor glam, eye-popping as ever, as is David Rockwell’s scenic design and Kenneth Posner’s lighting design. Musical supervision, arrangements and orchestrations by Tony and Grammy Award winner Stephen Oremus add to the distinctive Lauper score.

As a good pair of heels are worth strutting in more than once, so is a return visit to Kinky Boots, and if you haven’t seen it before, good lawd! What are you waiting for?

Kinky Boots runs at the 5th Avenue Theatre through May 8, 2016. For tickets and information, visit them online at 5thavenue.org.

Andrew McGinn and Darrah Keenan in Sherlock Holmes

Andrew McGinn and Darrah Keenan in Sherlock Holmes. Photo by Chris Bennion.

There are problems afoot with Seattle Repertory Theatre’s Sherlock Holmes and The American Problem. There has been a bit of Sherlock Holmes over-kill recently between the film reboot with Robert Downey Jr., the BBC TV smash with Benedict Cumberbatch, and the updated Americanization with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu. That’s no to mention the hit 2013-2014 Rep adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles, co-written by R. Hamilton Wright, the sole author of this new work.

This tale is set during Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Wright’s plot interweaves Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and trusty housekeeper Mrs. Hudson with an American celebrity client, Sherlock’s problematic brother Mycroft, and others in a mystery whose key element is the theft of a tunnel boring machine (a gimmick that seems to allude to a modern-day Seattle dilemma). Indeed an improvised show with these characters might have at least been more fun. Not to say that Wright can’t write, but this effort is simply sketchy at best.

Darragh Keenan fumes and quips and deduces amusingly and stylishly as Holmes and Andrew McGinn is an ideal foil as Dr. Watson. Marianne Owens, an affable enough Mrs. Hudson, is too little to do with the plot and pours more coffee than an old Maxwell House commercial. As the client going under the nom-de-plume Phoebe Ann Moses, Christine Marie Brown doesn’t seem to have the gumption or corn-fed charm of a little sure-shot. Charles Leggett seems most at home as the skulking and glowering Mycroft, and Rob Burgess is creepily amusing as a certain Major Ramsey, who it turns out may just be…. ah but that’s not for me to say.

The mood and atmosphere are right. Allison Narver’s direction is clean and character-driven, if slow-paced, but the developments in the tale don’t lend the right shivery, scary fun feeling to the proceedings. The scenic, lighting, and projection design by L.B. Morse are just short of perfection, while Deb Trout’s costume design is all one might wish. As for old Holmes, perhaps it’s time to retire him. How about a revisionist Charlie Chan with say Kathy Hsieh in the title role? I’d be up for it!

Sherlock Holmes and The American Problem runs through May 22, 2016 at the Seattle Repertory Theatre. For tickets or information contact their box office at 206-443-2222 or visit them online at seattlerep.org.