'Kinky Boots' a shoe-in for a good time

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Actor Harvey Fierstein, director Jerry Mitchell, and singer Cyndi Lauper celebrate the L.A. premiere Of 'KINKY BOOTS' at the Pantages Theatre on November 11, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Chelsea Lauren/Getty Images for Hollywood Pantages)

THE MORAL of "Kinky Boots"? That's an easy one: There's no business like shoe business.

But (bad) puns aside, it's easy to see why 2013 Tony Awards voters bestowed six statues - including the coveted Best Musical - upon the show based on a relatively obscure 2005 British film which, in turn, was inspired by the true story of a failing shoe manufacturer whose fortunes were reversed by its entry into the fetish-wear industry.

The stage version, which runs through May 10 at the Forrest Theatre, is a real charmer, blessed with an interesting, easy-to-follow plot, empathetic characters, a tuneful, eclectic score, enough genuinely funny lines to keep the laughs coming on a regular basis and an infectious energy that never flags.

The story provides a firm foundation: Despite having little enthusiasm for it, Charlie Price puts his plans to move to London on hold to run the generations-old, British-hinterlands family business left to him by his deceased father. Unfortunately, Charlie soon learns that the firm is heading toward financial disaster. But an encounter with a drag queen sets the plant on a wild new course making stiletto-heeled, thigh-high boots for male crossdressers.

Broadway stalwart Harvey Fierstein's book is mostly faithful to the film script (many of the best lines are from the movie), but it is Cyndi Lauper's score - her first - that rings the bell here.

Hopscotching between rock, pop and R&B, the songs - and many are real, honest-to-God songs, not just sung dialogue - are musically rich and lyrically on point. And she isn't afraid to occasionally nod to her influences, from David Bowie's glam-rock anthem, "All the Young Dudes," to works by Philly's Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian, of the Hooters, who were the behind-the-scenes brains on Lauper's breakout solo LP, "She's So Unusual."

The cast is uniformly superb, starting with show-stealing Kyle Taylor Parker as Lola, the drag queen whose emotional baggage rivals Charlie's (both have daddy issues), and Steven Booth as the decent, grounded Charlie.

Mix in stellar direction and choreography by Jerry Mitchell, vivid, straight-from-the-Crayola-box-hued costumes by Gregg Barnes and David Rockwell's eye-catching sets, and you have a show only a real heel wouldn't enjoy.

 


Forrest Theatre, 1114 Walnut St., 8 p.m. tonight and May 8, 2 and 8 p.m. tomorrow and May 9, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday and May 10, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, $57-$117, 215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org.

A honey of a 'Moon'


 

Normally, describing a stage comedy as "sitcomish" is not a particularly positive critique. But in the case of "To The Moon," it is high praise indeed.

That's because Jen Childs' newest piece for 1812 Productions is an affectionate tribute to what many of us honorary members of the Raccoon Lodge believe is the greatest situation comedy of all time, "The Honeymooners." But more than that, the world-premiere comedy that runs through May 19 at Christ Church Neighborhood House, in Old City, is funny - often hilarious - in its own right, a nonstop cavalcade of chuckle-igniting punch lines and superb comic acting.

"To the Moon" centers on struggling actor Scottie (Scott Greer), who idolizes the late Jackie Gleason for his breathtaking versatility as an entertainer and his success as a show-biz mogul, as well as for the my-way-or-the-highway philosophy of the "The Great One"and his celebrated love of the good life.

While Scottie is a "Ralph Kramden" type - a striving but unsuccessful, self-deluding "moke" (as Ralph himself would put it) - he aspires to be Gleason, much as, in the series that inspired the play, Ralph Kramden was a working-class Everyman who dreamed and schemed in hopes of becoming rich. And therein lies the show's basic plot, as Scottie longs to hit the high note as a performer and/or entrepreneur with a never-produced script for the old "Jackie Gleason Show" that he has won in a poker game.

Supporting Scottie but attempting to keep him grounded are his loving but frequently vexed wife, Tracie (Tracie Higgins) and his loyal, sweet-but-dim best friend, Lawton (Anthony Lawton). And yes, both characters bear more-than-passing resemblances to Alice Kramden and Ed Norton, respectively.

Higgins is solid in the mostly unrewarding role of Tracie. Lawton is a scream as the Norton avatar, effortlessly capturing the great Art Carney's funny-bone-destroying shtick and basic sweetness.

All the actors have been provided with great material by Childs, and the integration of several video sequences is masterful.

But this is Greer's show, and his performance is typical of a guy whose nickname should be "Tour de Force." Just weeks past his riveting turn as a suicidal 600-pound man in the intensely dramatic "The Whale," Greer astounds here with impressive comedic chops, including a real gift for physical comedy. (He also does a pretty mean Gleason impersonation.)

"To The Moon" may be about 15 minutes too long, and there's no question that the more of a "Honeymooners" fan you are, the more you'll enjoy all the gags and references. But funny is funny. And "To The Moon" is very funny.

 


Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N. American St., show times vary, $26-$40, 215-592-9560, 1812productions.org.


On Twitter: @chuckdarrow

Blog: philly.com/Casinotes