The cast of “Kinky Boots” at the Ogunquit Playhouse Photo by Morgan Gavaletz LaMontagne

Sporty Mainers may get a little excited about a new pair of waders. But that’s nothing compared to the energy generated by the footwear featured in the latest production from the Ogunquit Playhouse.

The multiple award-winning musical “Kinky Boots” is a powerhouse of song and dance centered on an unusual collaboration between a failing shoe manufacturer and a flamboyant drag queen.

Young Charlie Price (Graham Scott Fleming) is unenthusiastic about taking over the family shoe business. He has an ambitious fiancée set on taking him away from the decaying industrial town of Northampton, England, and into the highlife in London.  Charlie’s accidental encounter with Lola (Kyle Taylor Parker), a flashy, cross-dressing performer, results in an uneasy alliance around the idea of producing sturdy, well-made boots for a newly identified niche market.

The worlds of gritty factory work and dazzling drag performance collide in hilarious and moving ways in this high-stepping and highly entertaining show created by Harvey Fierstein (book) and Cindi Lauper (music) and directed and choreographed at Ogunquit by Nathan Peck. The big song and dance numbers are truly fabulous, and the ballads tenderly moving. The dramatic scenes, though necessary to the show’s message of tolerance and understanding, slow things down only just a bit at times.

As Charlie and Lola get to know each other, actors Fleming and Parker each have chances to work through emotional outbursts that eventually lead their characters to a greater understanding of their own and each other’s true selves. They establish relatable biographical experiences involving a struggle for acceptance in “I’m Not My Father’s Son,” a song that soars while also retaining an intimacy that draws the audience into a consideration of what’s at stake for both.

Parker later nails Lola’s vulnerability with a soulful “Hold Me in Your Heart” that, on opening night, earned lengthy applause from an obviously moved audience. Similarly, Fleming lays out Charlie’s gut feelings in the give-it-all-you’ve-got “Soul of a Man.”

Elements of folk, rock, pop, tango and disco music, with associated dance stylings, add engaging variety to the show. But it is in the central club/disco numbers that Lola and a chorus line of drag Angels most decidedly take over the stage. “The Land of Lola,” Sex is in the Heel” and “What a Woman Wants” are seamless numbers that frequently had the crowd hooting and clapping along.

Mention should be given to a fine supporting cast, including Joe Coots as a lout with a heart, Ashley North as the fiancée with her own dreams, John Scherer as a comical George, and, most delightfully, Maggie McDowell as the reluctantly smitten factory girl Lauren.

McDowell did not miss with a role that perfectly combines the comical with a chance to musically let loose. Her take on “The History of Wrong Guys” was one of the songs that had the crowd buzzing at intermission.

A slow-motion boxing match and a dance atop a moving conveyor belt are but two of the memorable moments in a show that closes with the rousing, feel good “Raise You Up/Just Be.”

Warning: Audience members for this show may be tempted to add some sparkle to their favorite pair of boots as the cooler weather approaches.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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