With ‘Kinky Boots,’ Out Front kicks up its heels

It’s pretty easy to see how Out Front Theatre’s production of “Kinky Boots” almost sold-out its entire run before the show even opened last week. Making his very first entrance as a flamboyant London drag queen named Lola, actor Wendell Scott needed only to emerge from behind a red tinsel curtain to elicit a thunderous round of cheers and applause from a packed Sunday matinee audience.

The 2013 Broadway musical is based on a 2005 British cult film, featuring a script adapted by gay icon Harvey Fierstein and Tony-winning songs written by pop star Cyndi Lauper.

The protagonist of the piece, Charlie Price, inherits a faltering shoe factory from his late father, and to keep it afloat, he’s forced to start thinking outside the (shoe) box — or, as he puts it, “reinventing the heel.” His longtime girlfriend doesn’t offer much support or encouragement, but after a chance encounter with Lola, Charlie finds an unlikely friend and business associate. Together, they resolve to refocus the company by targeting a new line of footwear to a “niche market” of female impersonators.

Credit: Tyler Ogburn Photography

Credit: Tyler Ogburn Photography

With founding artistic director Paul Conroy at the helm, Out Front’s “Kinky Boots” clearly appeals to its own niche, too. Sure, the Alliance or City Springs or Aurora could have supplemented the material with a higher level of accessories (a live orchestra, a fancier set, a more established cast). Nonetheless, Out Front’s Jay Reynolds does just splendidly with his flashy costumes for Lola and her backup singers, which also goes for wig and makeup designer George Devours; together, they deck them out to look reminiscent of that chorus line of dance-hall hostesses from “Sweet Charity.”

The acting performances of co-stars Scott and Dustin Presley (as Charlie), moreover, are genuinely effective, and especially impressive in that both of them are making auspicious debuts on the local theater scene. Despite the obvious differences between the characters — Simon (the timid and unassuming man beneath the Lola drag) is gay, Charlie is straight — they discover a common bond in terms of grappling with certain father issues still lingering from their individual pasts.

Both leading men prove to be surefooted singers, as well, in their “Not My Father’s Son” duet, and by nailing their respective show-stopping solos (Presley’s robust “Soul of a Man,” Scott’s tender “Hold Me in Your Heart”), under the music direction of Nick Silvestri, using a prerecorded instrumental track.

There are additional small pleasures to be enjoyed elsewhere in Conroy’s supporting ensemble: another newcomer, Wynne Kelly, is delightful as a factory employee who’s smitten with Charlie; Justin Dilley stands out as the affable shop foreman; so does Nhadyne Banton Brown as one of the more opinionated workers; Josh Hudson registers briefly as Charlie’s drinking buddy; and Alan Phelps holds his own as an antagonistic sparring partner for Simon/Lola, in more ways than one.

Along the way, to boot, there’s an uplifting lesson to be learned about accepting others for who they are. The biggest production budget in the world wouldn’t have made that message any clearer than it is right here, under these relatively economical circumstances. To paraphrase Lola’s words of wisdom to Charlie, there’s a difference between inexpensive boots and pricey boots that are cheaply made.

Out Front’s “Kinky Boots” may be inexpensive in the grand scheme of things, but it isn’t cheap.


THEATER REVIEW

“Kinky Boots”

Through Nov. 5. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays; 8 p.m. Monday (Oct. 31). $25-$35. (Most performances have already sold-out, but limited “walk up” tickets are available one hour before each show.) Out Front Theatre, 999 Brady Ave. NW, Atlanta. 404-448-2755. www.outfronttheatre.com.

Bottom line: Suitably diverting.