THE BOOT FACTORY IS OPEN IN BERKELEY AND IT IS A CROWD PLEASER
B NOEL THOMAS IS A TOUR DE FORCE IN BPH’S ‘KINKY BOOTS’. “LIKE MOST THINGS IN LIFE, THEY CANNOT STAND THE WEIGHT OF A MAN”. THE BOOTS ARE ALWAYS FABULOUS, FLASHY, HEELS TO THE CEILING, AND FULL OF HEART
Review by Vince Mediaa
Berkeley Playhouse opens its 2023/24 Season with the Tony Award-winning musical KINKY BOOTS. The Price & Son Boot Factory is only open through Sunday October 15, 2023. The Tony honored show with the “red for love” knee high KINKY BOOTS has swept Bay Area stages this past Spring and Summer. Selling out local stages, and this fall Berkeley shines with the red boots. I have seen five productions, it's a fun show to see a few times, yet the conveyor belt at the factory can run slow depending on the production. Directed and Choreographed by William Thomas Hodgson he says “The vision is a celebration of queerness, a community in queerness. As representative as this show has been on Broadway, on the West End, and around the world, I feel like we have our own special sauce in Berkeley. The commodity of this show, the event of this show, is radical acceptance—this love through community, this love of one’s self, and of one’s own desires even.”
This musical is full of heart and infectious musical showtunes. Inspired by a true story, and 1905 indie film, KINKY BOOTS features a Tony winning score by Cyndi Lauper, with a book by the inimitable Tony winner Harvey Fierstein. It has a number of Fierstein signature one liners that leave the audience doubled over with laughter. “Please, God, tell me I have not inspired something burgundy. Red. Red. *Red*. *Red*, Charlie boy. *Red*! Is the color of sex! Burgundy is the color of hot water bottles!”. It follows in his tradition of shows featuring drag queens, including the Torch Song Trilogy and La Cage aux Folles. Since my readers have read a few of my KB’s reviews - I am not going to mention the story, but only mention the craft team and actors.
The opening anthem “The Most Beautiful Thing” features local favorite Billy Raphael who plays the senior Mr. Price. Raphael is always strong in vocals and inspiration and is the perfect actor to open this musical. He is featured with Keenan Moran and Jack Ranny who alternate as young Charlie and they both are aspiring with Raphael. Grown Charlie is played by Seth Hanson who hopes production of drag queen footwear will keep the factory in business. Hanson sings “Take What You’ve Got” and is outshined by the excellent ensemble under the music direction of Kenji Harada.
KINKY always sizzles around a drag queen named Lola played by an electrifying B Noel Thomas, who leads this two and half hour romp. The story heats up with some appealing tunes from Lauper. Fierstein has that “Hairspray” flash back for the intense romps and mashups featured in Hodgson’s choreography. The keen assembly line number, “Everybody Say Yeah” with the company moving from a stationery conveyor belt, is a highlight of Hodgson's direction.
Thomas as Lola, enters with cheers from the audience with her opening song “Land of Lola”. Thomas lights up the stage with a show stopping charisma and humor. She is sexy and fierce as hell, stomping the house down in an array of fabulous stilettos in “Sex Is The Heel” and slaying the audience with her one-liners and snappy physicality. “I have to warn you, Charlie from Northampton, I have a terrible habit of doing exactly the opposite of what people want of me”.
The splendid virtuosity of No’Eau Kahalekulu as Lauren the smitten factory worker is a delight. “Maybe you judge what you leave behind by what you inspire in other people” says Lauren. Kahalekulu’s solo number “The History of Wrong Guys” is a perfect introduction for her love for Charlie. “What a Woman Wants” is a hit in the second act and Kahalekulu alongside Thomas and the female cast is a celebration. Composer Lauper also seems most comfortable in her element: writing power ballads and love anthems. Hanson as Charlie, sings solo’s “Step One”, and “Charlie’s Sad Soliloquy” and misses the mark, his voice may have been tired. But alongside Thomas in “I’m Not My Father’s Son” Lola and Charlie are passionate as Thomas shows off his perfect skills as an actor.
Two young actors open the show as Lola and Charlie as kids, including the talented Trezin Forder reprises his role as young Simon; I have seen him in this role at Ray Of Light's excellent production. Forder is a preteen who is an expert in heels and a scene stealer. It's great to see him on an East Bay stage. Hanson does what he can as Charlie, the ensemble over shadows his performance in "Soul Of A Man".
The cast also includes the two potential villains, the grumpy Danny Cozart as the lead factory worker Don and the stellar Grace Margaret Craig as Nicola, the girlfriend. The company also includes the accomplished Maia Campbell, Tosca Maltzman, Markalia Dyson, Will Thompson, Miles Meckling, Jose Gallentes, Elena Ruggiero, Austine De Los Santos, Kyle Herrera and CJ Smith; who fill out the cast as factory workers and other roles.
The polished Jaron Liclican as Harry is featured in “Take What You Got” with Charlie and shows off his rich confident voice. It's good to see Liclican back performing in local theatre, he formaly appeard on THE VOICE and NBC's SING-OFF.
Lola and her Angles feature Miles Meckling, Jesse Cortez, Malcolm Leon and Lou Cooper; they break out the first act with camp eyecandy numbers. “Everybody Say Yeah” and the sizzling action “In This Corner”. The Angels take center stage during the prize fight that Lola uses to prove her mad skills. A highlight is the performance by Jesse Cortez as the camp perfect Angel, and Leon as the dance captain who made sure the cast slayed in their knee high Red Boots.
The production design is simple with a raised single platform for the factory office and Lola’s Cabaret; Sarah Phykitt’s scenic design takes us from the busy shoe factory to the runway of Milan. The costume team; Ashley Renee, and Jennifer Marie Frazier had a massive challenge as they turned those drag queens out in style. Featured Designer Kipper Yanaga makeup and drag swager is also quite exquisite. Music Director Kenji Harada has upbeat orchestrations that keep the cast on their heels, the pit includes; Jessica Igarashi, Brietta Greger, Micheal Beveridge, Rene Canto-Adams, Brian Einstein Lassiter, Mark Zollinger, Sid Haywood, Tommy Holmes and Zach Friesen.
A shout out to Dialect coach Lynne Soffer who coached this cast to sound like they just arrived from Northamptonshire. Lighting designer Bo Tindell kept the Julia Morgan theatre misty with a light fog to make his pools of light dramatic for the factory. Joshua Price's sound design was clear and kept the nine piece orchestra at peak, and his clever sound cues seem to add swag to every drag queen fan shade. Boots, boxes of shoes, sewing machines, spools of fabric are upstaged by the Angles fans that prop designer Emily Summers created. Stage Managers Kayleigh Kirby, Dori King, and Kaitlin Weinstein wrangled a 27 member cast on a fast moving set.
Whenever Lola and the Angels take the stage the show really comes to life and becomes sexy and joyful. The rousing closing number “Raise You Up, Just Be” includes the entire company in the classy red heels and it's easy to stand and cheer with this company. Hodgson’s stylish numbers that combine high heels and swagger will make you stand and cheer. KINKY BOOTS is fabulous, flashy and full of heart, and leaves the audience humming and strutting their way out of the theatre. To be real - I have seen better Boots productions, but the great news; KINKY is set to open on a few more local stages in 2024 - Contra Costa, Marin Counties and others - and no matter what boot factory you check into - you will adore this story and musical. KINKY BOOTS is the best way to welcome the BPH new season. No need to arrive in heels, but when you leave you are sure to want to find a pair of stilettos and a fan.
Berkeley Playhouse Presents
Book by Harvey Fierstein, Music by Cyndi Lauper
Directed and Choreographed
by William Thomas Hodgson
Assistant Director Arabelle Siemsen
Music Director Kenji Harada
Artistic Director Kimberly Dooley
Based on the Miramax Film Kinky Boots by Deane and Firth
Must Close Sunday Oct 15, 2023
Julia Morgan Arts Center
2640 College Ave., Berkeley, CA 94704.
Running Time 2 hours 40 minutes
PHOTOS BY Ben Krantz Studio
B Noel Thomas* as Lola/Simon
Seth Hanson as Charlie Price
Grace Margaret Craig as Nicola
No'Eau Kahalekulu as Lauren
Danny Cozart as Don
Maia Campbell as Pat
Elena Ruggiero as Trish
CJ Smith as George
Billy Raphael as Mr. Price / Moishe / Us George
Kyle Herrera as Simon Sr. / Locke / Delivery Man / Unhoused Man / US Charlie
Jaron Liclican as Harry / Crispin
Jose Gallentes as Richard Bailey / Paddington / US Harry
Markaila Dyson as Maggie / US Lauren
Austine De Los Santos as Mutt / Hooligan / US Mr. Price / Richard Bailey
Tosca Maltzman as Gemma Louise / US Trish
Will Thompson as Hooch / Hooligan
Summer Vance as Marge / Stage Manager / US Nicola
Miles Meckling as Angel / US Lola
Jesse Cortez as Angel
Malcolm Leon as Angel / Dance Captain / US Simon Sr.
Lou Cooper as Angel
Keenan Moran as Young Charlie
Jackson (Jack) Ranney as Young Charlie
Tenzin Forder as Young Lola / Simon
Lillith Era as Swing / Understudy
Scout Del Real as Swing / Understudy
Matt Davis as US Don