Paramount Theatre resumes live performances with exuberant 'Kinky Boots' revival

  • Lola (Michael Wordly), left, helps Charlie (Devin DeSantis) save his late father's foundering shoe factory in Paramount Theatre's revival of "Kinky Boots" by Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper.

    Lola (Michael Wordly), left, helps Charlie (Devin DeSantis) save his late father's foundering shoe factory in Paramount Theatre's revival of "Kinky Boots" by Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper. Courtesy of Liz Lauren

 
 
Updated 9/2/2021 8:22 AM

"Kinky Boots" -- ★ ★ ★

Paramount Theatre's "Kinky Boots" cast could have sung the phone book on a bare stage and the audience response to their performance likely would have been as rapturous as that which accompanied the opening night curtain.

 

The thunderous applause that greeted the "welcome back" announcement made clear how eager this near-capacity audience was for the resumption of in-person, indoor theater in the suburbs. Then again, this being Paramount, the response might just as well have reflected the audience's anticipation for the area's first regional production of the Harvey Fierstein/Cyndi Lauper tuner that premiered in Chicago nine years ago. The Aurora theater is known for showcasing top-tier talent, and "Kinky Boots" is no exception.

Michael Wordly makes his Paramount Theatre debut as Lola in the regional premiere of "Kinky Boots." Behind him are Lola's Angels played by Anthony Avino, left, Christopher Kelly, Anthony Sullivan Jr., Matthew Bettencourt, J Tyler Whitmer and Terrell Armstrong.
Michael Wordly makes his Paramount Theatre debut as Lola in the regional premiere of "Kinky Boots." Behind him are Lola's Angels played by Anthony Avino, left, Christopher Kelly, Anthony Sullivan Jr., Matthew Bettencourt, J Tyler Whitmer and Terrell Armstrong. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren

Director Trent Stork's joyous revival boasts strong singing actor/dancers. Leading the ensemble are stars Michael Wordly, whose Lola strikes the right emotional and comedic notes; Devin DeSantis, as ambivalent shoe manufacturer Charlie; and Sara Reinecke, whose appealing turn as Charlie's would-be girlfriend Lauren elevates the supporting role to the fore.

The production looks terrific thanks to Kevin Depinet and Christopher Rhoton's set, which transitions from old-school industrial to modern glitz, and the pairing of Ryan Park's kaleidoscopic costumes (sky-high heels included) with Katie Cordits' fabulous wigs and makeup.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But it's the message -- embrace change, practice tolerance, accept yourself -- conveyed through Lauper's pleasing pop score and Fierstein's amusing book that propels this show. Stork's production is buoyant, its sentiment genuine and the enthusiasm of its cast seemingly boundless.

Inspired by the true story of a British shoe factory that reversed its declining sales by shifting from manufacturing traditional men's footwear to making women's boots that could be worn by drag queens, the musical "Kinky Boots" is based partly on the 2005 film of the same name.

Drag queen Lola (Michael Wordly), right, designs a boot that may help Charlie (Devin DeSantis) save his struggling shoe company in Paramount Theatre's production of "Kinky Boots," directed by Trent Stork.
Drag queen Lola (Michael Wordly), right, designs a boot that may help Charlie (Devin DeSantis) save his struggling shoe company in Paramount Theatre's production of "Kinky Boots," directed by Trent Stork. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren

DeSantis plays Charlie, who inherits his late father's failing shoe factory in Northampton, England, just as he's preparing to leave for London with his upwardly mobile fiancé Nicola (Emilie Lynn). To save the jobs of workers he's known since childhood, Charlie comes up with the idea of filling a niche in the shoe market -- manufacturing ladies footwear for men to wear -- after a chance encounter with drag queen Lola, whom he enlists to design a new line of kinky boots.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Bonding over shared father-son conflicts, Lola and Charlie become allies until the second act when Charlie lashes out at Lola with a particularly vicious (and not entirely credible) verbal assault. The contrivance is among the second act's persistent problems. With the exception of the anthemic finale "Raise You Up/Just Be," Act II fails to pack the wallop delivered in Act I, which includes the rollicking, showstopping "Sex is in the Heel," the endearingly accurate "History of Wrong Guys" and "Not My Father's Son," a moving meditation on unresolved father issues. Speaking of which, for pure emotional resonance, I found that "Not My Father's Son" surpassed the impassioned 11 o'clock ballad "Hold Me In Your Heart." That takes nothing from Wordly, whose measured performance of the former tugged at the heartstrings and whose powerhouse vocals on the latter number stopped the show a second time.

Lola (Michael Wordly) and her fellow drag performers explain that when it comes to shoes the "sex is in the heel" in Paramount Theatre's production of "Kinky Boots."
Lola (Michael Wordly) and her fellow drag performers explain that when it comes to shoes the "sex is in the heel" in Paramount Theatre's production of "Kinky Boots." - Courtesy of Liz Lauren

Speaking of showstoppers, the Angels -- an athletic, balletic sextet of Terrell Armstrong, Anthony Avino, Matthew Bettencourt, Christopher John Kelley, Anthony Sullivan Jr. and J. Tyler Whitmer -- also deserve kudos.

Like their castmates, the Angels could have earned applause by merely posing. They did so much more.

Welcome back, indeed.

• • •

Location: Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, (630) 896-6666, paramountaurora.com

Showtimes: 1 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday; through Oct. 17

Tickets: $36-$74

Running time: Two hours, 40 minutes, including intermission

Parking: Limited street parking, paid lots nearby

Rating: For teens and older

COVID-19 precautions: Upon entering the theater, patrons must show proof they are fully vaccinated and a photo ID. All patrons must wear masks except when eating or drinking.

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.