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Review: Wayne Brady Kicks Up a Storm Once Again in Kinky Boots

The Tony-winning musical recently concluded a brief run at the Hollywood Bowl.

Wayne Brady in Kinky Boots at the Hollywood Bowl
(© Greg Grudt/Mathew Imaging)

Last weekend, Wayne Brady sashayed onto the runway at the Hollywood Bowl as the iconic drag queen Lola in the Tony-winning musical Kinky Boots. His vibrant performance prevented a miscast Jake Shears from dragging the evening down.

With a score by Cyndi Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein, the 2013 musical focuses on Charlie (Shears), an English lad wanting to leave his small town and the family business of shoe manufacturing behind. His father's death and the financial woes of the business, though, force him to return and bail out a company he never cared about — and only because it would devastate the lives of his employees. A chance encounter with a towering drag queen, Lola (Brady), plants an idea that just might save the company: ladies boots made for men who like to dress like women. The closed-minded employees balk at the "humiliating" new product, but Lola's spirit and integrity affect everyone for the better.

While we are hopefully getting to an era where gay roles are played by gay actors after so many years of those opportunities being stripped away from openly gay performers, it's impossible not to admire the beautifully tender and fierce portrayal by Brady. Whether strutting around the stage in fiery red kinky boots or belting out the torch song "Hold Me In Your Heart" to his ailing, dismissive father, he's magnificent.

Shears, lead singer of the alternative band Scissor Sisters, seemed to have poor control of his vocal instrument. While famous for highlighting his upper octave range on record, here he couldn't hit several high notes. His British accent was weak, and his acting was clumsy and unfocused. Though he had already played the role on Broadway, he probably needed stronger direction from Jerry Mitchell.

The rest of the cast was darling. Kelly Marie Tran of Star Wars fame was an excited pixie, dancing around anxiously as her character's love for Charlie blooms. Tony winner Marissa Jaret Winokur was a ball of energy in the small role of Pat, while Daniel Stewart Sherman (who originated the role on Broadway) portrayed Don as a gruff mountain of prejudice, just waiting to melt under Lola's touch.

A stage as gargantuan as the Hollywood Bowl usually swallows Broadway productions whole, but the sound coming from the cast and orchestra electrified the stage and jolted the 18,000-seat amphitheater. Stephen Oremus's musical direction was vibrant, connecting the cast despite the huge stage. As conductor, Oremus also has full command of his orchestra, presenting a unified front despite their physical separation in the back corners.

Kinky Boots sadly has become timelier in our volatile age. When drag queens are demonized as inappropriate and harmful to children, everyone fighting the good fight should remember one of the last lines of the finale "Raise You Up/Just Be'': "You change the world when you change your mind!"


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