Kansas City Theater Review: “Kinky Boots”

Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Missouri
September 29, 2017

Review by: JR Deeter

The stage musical “Kinky Boots” is based on the 2005 British film of the same name. I first became aware of this inspiring story while watching the 2013 Tony awards program. I enjoyed the musical numbers like “Sex Is in the Heel,” “Not My Fathers Son,” and “Soul of a Man.” The performance this evening at Starlight really did those songs justice and really, the entire score of songs was great. Lead actors Lance Bordelon and Joseph N. Banks were perfect in there respective rolls of Charlie and Lola/Simon. The supporting cast did an exceptional job as well, especially the ensemble group known as the Angels. For the musical, written by Harvey Fierstein with music & lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, a strong message of inclusion is brought out, promoting the feeling that everyone deserves respect for who they are.

The story tells of a four-generation tradition of proprietors of a men’s shoe factory, Charlie dreams of something more…and his fiancé, Nicola, is dragging him to the big city of London to pursue that dream. The sudden death of Charlie’s father brings him back into the factory to figure out how to tell the staff, who are like family to him, that the company is bankrupt and going to have to close. On a return trip to London, he encounters what he believes to be a woman being beat up by a couple of guys. He intervenes and meets the amazing Lola, the drag queen star of the club Charlie was visiting. Over time a friendship begins to develop and soon, with encouragement from his factory workers, who do not want to see the factory close, Charlie realizes a change is necessary from the old, stodgy men’s shoes to something more….and that is to provid kinky style boots for the transvestites who perform in the club. They are in need of a better designed boot, one that can handle the weight of a man, and still look fabulous and sexy. Lola brings her ideas and a partnership is born. Everything is going great, until an episode of intolerance shows that there are still those in society who do not accept what they cannot understand, or what is different than what they believe is normal. After teaching the misguided few a valuable lesson, by means of a boxing match (yes, turns out in his younger days, Lola, or Simon was trained by his father to be a prize fighter). Lola and Charlie find themselves at odds over designs, models for an upcoming show in Milan, and just their friendship in general. Lola seeks closure from her failed relationship with her father, who has rejected her for the lifestyle she choose. All seems lost, but like most musicals, everything works out in the end. Charlie and Lola realize they need each other to accomplish their goals and even the former bully comes around and admits his misgivings. The fashion show starts out as a disaster, but Lola and her Angels arrive just in time to save the day, and all is right with their world.

A very entertaining show, with a valuable lesson and and musical numbers that are outstanding. Cyndi Lauper has created memorable songs and music that shine bright all the way through. Not bad for a first timer. In 2013 “Kinky Boots” received 13 Tony Award nominations and won six trophys, including Best Musical and, for Cyndi Lauper, Best Score.

Kansas City Theater Review: “Motown the Musical”

Starlight Theater, Kansas City, MO
August 22, 2017

It is truly part of the soundtrack of my life. In fact, I would bet cash money that if you’re over the age of 16 you’ve heard the sound of Motown. From Smokey Robinson to the Four Tops. Diana Ross to the Jackson 5. Rick James to Rockwell. For almost 60 years we have grooved to the music delivered to us by the great Berry Gordy. If you’ve seen “Dreamgirls” you kind of had an idea of what went on behind the scenes. With “Motown” you know the truth.

The show opens during the famed “Motown” 25 television special, which was put together to honor the label and it’s artists but it mostly remembered for being the show where Michael Jackson introduced the Moonwalk! While current and former Motown artists (the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Junior Walker) perform for the audience, we see an assistant trying to persuade Motown founder Gordy (Chester Gregory) to attend the event. Gordy is upset, having lost many of his founding musicians to bigger record labels with bigger budgets. It wasn’t always like this, he notes.

A step back into one of the most important parts of musical history, “Motown” is an amazing homage to the music most of us grew up listening to. But it’s more then just a “greatest hits” variety show. It takes a look inside the famous walls of Hitsville U.S.A. and the struggles that were endured, both musically and personally. Among the main parts of the story line are the budding romance between the married Gordy and Diana Ross (Allison Semmes). Gordy has chosen to mentor Ross to be the best she can and this mentoring has slowly grown into love. In fighting among the groups, choices of songs and the rights of artists to do what they feel is important. Gaye fights to record an album of socially conscious songs and though Gordy resists at first, he relents and the world is given “What’s Going On,” followed by “Mercy, Mercy Me.” You needn’t wonder if the music is timeless, as both of those songs should be mandatory listening today.

As the story progresses into the 1970s, we meet the Jackson 5 (this group was easily the most anticipated of the evening, earning the loudest applause). The 70s slow down until the company faces the prospects of having to sell. But the late 70s and early 80s, with groups like the Commodores and singers like Rick James (btch) keep the company going. All in all you will hear a virtual jukebox of over 50 great songs, all performed by an amazing cast, led by Mr. Gregory, Ms. Semmes and Jarran Muse, who brings the soul and the spirit of the late Marvin Gaye to life. If you love music and the power it has over us, this is the show for you!

“Motown: The Musical” continues in Kansas City through August 27th. Here is the show’s touring schedule through the end of October:

Chicago, IL: Oct. 3 – Oct. 8, 2017 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre
Huntsville, AL: Oct. 10 – Oct. 15, 2017 at the Broadway Theatre League
Peoria, IL: Oct. 17 – Oct. 19, 2017 at the Peoria Civic Center
Lincoln, NE: Oct. 21 – Oct. 22, 2017 at the Lied Center for Performing Arts
Mason City, IA: Oct. 25 – Oct. 26, 2017 at the North Iowa Community Auditorium
Sioux Falls, SD: Oct. 27 – Oct. 29, 2017 at the Washington Pavilion

Theater Review: Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” – Kansas City, MO

Starlight Theater
Kansas City, MO
June 3, 2017

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

Under the Sea. That is where the new production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” which made it’s debut performance this past Saturday – the show will be leaving KC to embark on an 18-city tour – intends to take theatre-goers. And it largely delivers on that promise, though not without a few questions.

If you are familiar with the animated film, and judging from a full-house which was easily 60% children, you know the story concerns young mermaid Ariel, the youngest daughter of Triton, falling in love with the very human Eric. Also along are the evil Ursula, the over-protective Sebastian and the goofy best pal Flounder. Young love, evil squids and great songs usually make for a fun night at the theater. However, there were a few things that distracted not only me during the performance but, if the fidgety children all around me were any indication, others as well. The problem with going to a show based on something familiar (book, movie, etc) is that any changes – and there are several plot/character changes here) or, in the case of a musical, new songs, have a tendency to throw viewers off, especially the little ones. If you’re hoping to see Max the dog or are hoping to see a cool shark chase on stage, you may be a little disappointed.

The production was directed by Glenn Casale, who also directed the original Broadway production. It is full of bright lights, bubbly performances and (mostly) familiar songs. Yet it didn’t really hold my full attention. I attribute this, in part, to the fact that this year Starlight has decided to utilize it’s large video screens above the stage, usually reserved for concerts, to “broadcast” the show to the audience. Meant to give the people in the rear of the theater a better, close-up view of the action on stage, if you are in the plaza seat area, watching the stage, you can’t help but have your attention drawn to the flickering images above the stage, which totally draws you out of the show. Also, for the first time in my years of attending shows here, the performance didn’t start on time. It was almost 8:30 before the curtain went up on the scheduled 8:00 show. Which means that the fidgety children were extra fidgety by the time it started. I do understand that this was, literally, the first show of this tour and that there may have been technical issues that needed to be worked out. A quick announcement to the audience would have been nice, especially with a show that runs almost two and a half hours.

Now on to the good stuff. The cast was first rate, with Diana Huey bright and energetic as Ariel. Eric Kunze was in fine voice as Prince Eric while Melvin Abston was truly the crowd favorite as Sebastian the Crab. Connor Russell earned some laughs as Flounder while Jennifer Allen oozed evil while belting out “Poor Unfortunate Souls” as Ursula. The production design was well conceived, and a scene where the creatures of the deep, including some impressive jelly fish, go by was a treat for the eyes. The one question I had, and maybe it’s because I’m an adult, was why, when everyone is in the water, why is Ariel the only one that has to move around CONSTANTLY while Flounder and other creatures just get to stay in place? Poor Ms. Huey’s arms must be dead tired after a show!

Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” runs in Kansas City through Sunday, June 11. For tickets head here.

Theater Review: “If/Then” Starlight Theater – Kansas City, Missouri

Starlight Theater
Kansas City, MO
July 26th, 2016

Our review: 4 out of 5 stars

What if? That is the question many of us have asked ourselves. What if, the day we did something that changed our lives, we didn’t. Instead of walking down one street and meeting the woman of your dreams you went the other way and found no one?

That is the question poised, as well as the name of the first musical number, in the show “If/Then,” now playing at Starlight Theater through July 31st.

Our show concerns itself with Elizabeth (Jackie Burns), who has returned to New York after a failed marriage in Portland. While waiting to meet an old friend, Lucas (Anthony Rapp) she meets a new one, Kate (a very funny and talented Tamyra Gray). Each want her to do something different. Each also call her by a different name. To Lucas she is Beth, hard working and dedicated. To Kate, who feels that Beth is the name of a woman living alone with her cats, she is Liz, ready to take on the world and all it has to offer. Liz/Beth also has a chance meeting with Josh, a young soldier just back from a tour of duty. As the show progresses, we often find Liz/Beth being put in a situation where, depending on which way she goes, has an immense impact on her life. What if?

Nominated for two Tony Awards when if first appeared on Broadway, “If/Then” was a perfect show to highlight the vocal talents of the great Idina Menzel. Ms. Burns is up to the challenge of stepping into Menzel’s vocal shoes here. It was nice to finally get the chance to see Anthony Rapp on stage. The only drawback is that his voice is so recognizable, thanks to a little show he did on Broadway two decades ago, that throughout most of the first act I could hear people around me, who apparently didn’t read the Playbill, that he was “the guy from RENT.” Ms. Gray, who you may remember was one of the first people to appear on “American Idol,” was also in great voice. All in all, an entertaining show.

The show continues on to Hartford, Connecticut the first week of August then moves on to Atlanta. For more information head here.

Theatre Review: “Matilda” Starlight Theater – Kansas City, Missouri

Matilda the Musical
Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Missouri
May 24, 2015
Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Review by Mike Smith

As an owner of a satellite radio one of my guilty pleasures is the “On Broadway” channel. Lots of show tunes, both old and new. One of the shows whose score I’d heard, but hadn’t seen, was the story of the girl who likes to read, “Matilda.” I was happy to learn that it would be kicking off the season this year at Starlight. That being said, I wasn’t as happy when I left the theater.

Based on the classic children’s book by Roald Dahl, “Matilda” tells the story of a young girl born to uninterested parents. Her mother (Darcy Stewart) is upset that her labor has interrupted her goal of dancing in an upcoming contest. Dad (Brandon McGibbon) is a car salesman who is so upset at having a girl he continuously refers to Matilda (a very good Lily Brooks O’Bryant) as a boy. “I’m a girl,” the young lady repeatedly reminds him. They send her off to school, but, as a young child, she is put in the worse class where all she gets for her love of reading is lectures by the school mistress, Miss Trunchbull (David Abelles). Hilarity ensues.

OK, first the good part. The songs are catchy and the young cast members are in good voice and have nailed the choreography. The bad part, especially with the parents, is that their British accents seem forced. And that’s being polite. It’s almost as if they had attended the “Dick Van Dyke School of Accents.” When he played Bert in the film “Mary Poppins,” Van Dyke’s accent was so atrocious – and yes, I know that word rhymes with supercalifragilisticexpialidocious – the book’s author, P.L. Travers – refused to let Walt Disney make a sequel.

If you like watching talented children then go see “Matilda.” If not, read the book.