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The Canadian cast of Kinky Boots.

Cylla von Tiedemann/The Canadian Press

3.5 out of 4 stars

Title
Kinky Boots
Genre
Musical
Directed by
Jerry Mitchell
Actors
Alan Mingo Jr., Graham Scott Fleming, AJ Bridel
Music
Cyndi Lauper
Lyrics
Cyndi Lauper
Book
Harvey Fierstein
Company
Mirvish Productions
Venue
The Royal Alexandra Theatre
City
Toronto
Runs Until
Sunday, September 27, 2015

Despite a weekend of relentless rain, it was hard not to feel sunny walking into Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre on Sunday night. After all, on Friday the U.S. Supreme Court had finally ruled in favour of same-sex marriage, while just a few hours before the show John Tory had showed us Toronto is back to having a mayor who marches in the Pride parade. Now here we were, about to see a Tony Award-winning musical by one of the parade's other participants, that punk-pop icon and veteran LGBTQ flag-waver, Cyndi Lauper.

Kinky Boots, co-written by Lauper (songs) and Harvey Fierstein (book) and based on the 2005 British film of the same name, is a high-kicking, high-spirited lesson in acceptance that proves to be perfect for a celebratory mood. And the terrific new Canadian production is something to celebrate in itself.

Kinky Boots tells the tale of two lads: Charlie (Graham Scott Fleming), reluctant heir to his father's Northampton shoe factory, and cross-dressing Simon (Alan Mingo Jr.), disowned by a dad who wanted him to become a prizefighter. When Charlie's old man dies suddenly, he's forced to take over the factory and discovers that a steep decline in sales has left it in financial peril. But as he begins to lay off his workers, one of them, Lauren (AJ Bridel), gives him the bright idea to stop churning out boring male shoes and find a potential niche market.

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That market presents itself when Charlie accidentally meets Simon, now in the guise of Lola and fronting a drag act at a London cabaret. Lola and her chorus of strapping drag queens, the Angels, are in need of sleek feminine footwear that supports their masculine weight. Before we know it, Lola and Charlie have joined forces to design and engineer a sturdy stiletto boot that will be, in Lola's salacious description, "two-and-a-half feet of irresistible, tubular sex."

Of course, there are kinks en route to creating these kinky boots. But if the predictable plot falls into line with those other feel-good stage shows based on feel-good British movies (Billy Elliot, The Full Monty, Calendar Girls), it gets a huge lift from Lauper's exuberant, pop-flavoured score. This is her first musical as a composer and she doesn't hold anything back: There are infectious dance tracks, soaring power ballads, kooky love songs and even some steamy funk. (The music won Lauper a Grammy as well as a Tony.)

Lauper and Fierstein, that venerable purveyor of flamboyant drag queens (La Cage aux Folles, Torch Song Trilogy), could never be accused of subtlety, but their brash, big-hearted sensibilities mesh perfectly here. Occasionally they can be maudlin – mainly when the story turns to serious soul-searching during the second act – but the overall tone is joyously playful.

Recreating his vibrant 2013 Broadway staging, director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell has assembled an excellent, mostly Canadian cast. One of the few exceptions is American actor Mingo, but there can be no complaints from the moment he struts onstage as a fierce, feline Lola, seemingly channelling Tina Turner and Diana Ross at the same time. He's equally effective as the shy Simon, who sheds his self-confidence along with his frock.

Local performer Fleming is well-cast as clean-cut Charlie – it's hard to believe he was doing low-budget musicals at the Lower Ossington Theatre just a couple of seasons ago. Then again, his supernal singing in Next to Normal suggested he was destined for bigger things, and he has plenty of opportunity to demonstrate that here.

But Bridel, another promising local, is the audience favourite as sweetly spunky Lauren, turning her big number, The History of Wrong Guys, into a tour de force of comic mugging and quirky vocal inflections that evoke Cyndi Lauper herself. Daniel Williston, a regular at Soulpepper Theatre, is also fun as the bearish, boorish Don. The show's real scene-stealers, though, are the Angels – played with a surfeit of attitude by Dan Domenech, David Houle, David Lopez, Stewart Adam McKensy, Geoff Stevens and Jesse Weafer – who do amazing things (including back flips) in high heels.

The multicoloured footwear and fabulous costumes, designed by Gregg Barnes, are a happy distraction. Look beyond them and you'll see David Rockwell's beautifully detailed factory set, with its rusted metal, weathered wood and pockmarked bricks. Mitchell's inspired choreography for the rousing first-act finale, Everybody Say Yeah, turns its assembly-line conveyor belts into mobile dance floors.

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Lauper, who wrote the classic queer anthem True Colors, ends the show with the jubilant Raise You Up/Just Be, containing a litany of T-shirt-worthy slogans about acceptance, pride and "changing the world when you change your mind." With the recent same-sex referendum in Ireland and now the U.S. court ruling, those changes seem to be happening slowly but surely. Kinky Boots is a splendid opportunity to stop, salute the parade of progress and, in the words of another Lauper classic, just have fun.

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