Review: Kinky Boots Is High-Stepping Entertainment

By J.E.Ballantyne Jr.
POLAND, Ohio – Top Hat Productions continued its season with the opening of the hit Broadway musical “Kinky Boots” on Friday night to a capacity crowd.

From the moment the house lights dim at the Fairview Arts and Outreach Center, the audience is treated to a whirlwind production. When lights come up on stage and the two slender panels at center stage part, the stage is alive with activity, color, music and shoes. Yes, shoes. And they are not necessarily on the actors’ feet.

Charlie Price, the lead character finds out upon the passing of his father, that he has inherited the family business – a shoe factory in England. Nothing could be more disappointing than the prospect that he will be making shoes for the rest of his life. A little bit of back story gives the audience an understanding of how important the family business is. From the opening number, “The Most Beautiful Thing,” despite the use of canned music; the cast is a fireball of energy and excitement.

Brian Suchora gives Mr. Price a gentle but proud characterization as he and fellow Price & Son employees hustle about in the daily business of making shoes. He is intent that son Charlie will be next in line to run the company. Suchora is seen only briefly in that role but shows up as an ensemble member in later scenes.

Charlie, is excellently portrayed by Anthony Villa. Villa has been part of the local theater scene for many years and has polished his talent over those years. I’m sure he has also learned a lot from fellow actor and father, Denny Villa.

Villa’s Charlie is an easy-to-like character as he is torn between wanting something else besides shoes but also considers the family ties that are involved. He excels in two musical numbers, “Charlie’s Soliloquy” in Act I and “The Soul of a Man” in Act II. His acting is solid and his portrayal is very believable.

His disappointment at his prospects are a cloud over him until he meets Lola. Lola is a drag queen at a local nightclub. But Lola ends up being the answer to his problems by inspiring Charlie to design a line of women’s boots that can be comfortable for a man. Anthony Woods-Mitchell turns in a tour de force performance as Lola/Simon. As Lola sings “The Sex Is In the Heel,” Charlie gets hooked on the idea of an extravagant glitzy boot that just might be the ticket to the company’s success. Woods-Mitchell moves seamlessly between the two identities of Lola and Simon and yet has such sharp contrasts that you could think you are watching two different actors.

The talent in this cast doesn’t stop there, however. Jessica Ludovici turns in a great performance as Lauren, who is secretly in love with Charlie and laments “The History of Wrong Guys.” Her belty voice is real crowd-pleaser.

Kaleb McFarland is convincing and a bit intimidating as factory employee Don. His character starts out slow but gains a lot of steam as the show moves along. A highlight is a very creatively staged slow motion boxing match in Act II between Don and Lola. McFarland’s character development is well crafted as the audience watches his slow transformation.

Christopher Scott is also a standout as George who tries to be the peacemaker when things get real tough during the transition to the new Kinky Boot style.

The ensemble is energetic, professional and carries the show along to a fast pace without ever missing a beat. There weren’t many downsides to this show. I would love to hear this cast with a live band or orchestra as it would really complete that sound. But in Top Hat’s limited space, live music can be a problem. Also, with the British accents being used some of the dia.ogue was a little fuzzy and difficult to catch.

Written by Harvey Fierstein with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, this musical is a freight train. Once it starts it roars along on tracks, it takes the audience with it..

Director Brian Palumbo and assistant director Julie Palumbo Villa have put a gem on stage at Top Hat. The casting is perfect and there is production value galore. Technical design was handled by Jeffrey Chann and he went all out on every level to make the show a winner. Musical direction was in the hands of Anthony Ruggiero who put together a superb ensemble.

If you are looking for a fast-paced, energetic way to spend an evening, get over to Top Hat Productions at 4220 Youngstown Poland Road for “Kinky Boots.” You’ll have a good time.

“Kinky Boots” will continue Oct. 1, 7, 8, 14, 15 at 7:30 p.m.

Pictured: Becky McConnell, Brandy Johanntges, Anthony Villa and Chris Scott in a scene from “Kinky Boots.”

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