On Stage: Kinky Boots

It’s always exciting when a new show comes to town (there are only so many ways you can write “Phantom of the Opera was amazing”). It’s even better when the new show is as entertaining as “Kinky Boots.”

Inspired by true events, “Kinky Boots” first came to life as a movie in 2005. A musical version, with music and lyrics by ’80s pop star Cyndi Lauper and book Harvey Fierstein, took to the Broadway stage in 2013. It went on to win six Tony Awards including Best Musical.

Steven Booth and Darius Harper (center) star in the KINKY BOOTS NATIONAL TOUR. Photo by Matthew Murphy

Steven Booth and Darius Harper (center) star in the KINKY BOOTS NATIONAL TOUR. Photo by Matthew Murphy

Set in a working-class town outside London, “Kinky Boots” is the story of Charlie Price (Steven Booth), who saves the family business with the help of an unlikely friend.

Price & Son is a shoe manufacturer that has fallen on hard times. Son Charlie wants nothing to do with the business and has moved to London to start a new life with his fiance. When dad dies unexpectedly, Charlie is drawn home where he must figure out a way to keep his factory alive and his friends employed.

A chance encounter with a drag queen named Lola (Darius Harper) provides the answer. When Lola complains that it’s hard to find quality high-heeled boots suitable for male ankles, Charlie sees a niche market that could be all his.

Of course it won’t be easy. The factory workers, especially the men, don’t know what to make of Lola. The story becomes as much about acceptance and being true to yourself as it does about making fashionable footwear.

“Kinky Boots” is an energetic, fun and moving show. The set design, the costumes, the music, the cast — all come together in a wildly funny and fast-paced production.

Lauper successfully brings her skills at writing catchy pop tunes to bear with a score filled with musical highlights, such as the opening “The Most Beautiful Thing,” the sizzling “Sex is in the Heel,” the humorous “The History of Wrong Guys,” the moving “Soul of a Man” and the rousing finale — “Raise You Up/Just Be.”  None of the songs feel like filler or lack heart.

Of course a fine score doesn’t mean much without the talent on stage and in the pit. “Kinky Boots” boasts a fine touring orchestra and a cast that can really dance and sing — even in high-heeled boots. While Booth gives a strong performance it is Harper who really commands the stage. His performance as Lola is dynamite.

 

 

 

At The Movies: Insurgent

I didn’t review “Divergent” when it first came out but I did eventually watch it when it showed up on DVD. I was not impressed.

I assumed being “divergent” was some alternative sci-fi term for “mutant” which was in turn an alternative term for “superhuman” and so I kept expecting laser beams to shoot out of Shailene Woodley’s eyes but it never happened. Disappointing.

Still, the movie did pretty well at the box office and the trailers for the sequel looked a lot more interesting so I figured I would give the series a second chance. “Insurgent” is more action-packed and interesting than the original but it still suffers from a really odd story and characters.

“Insurgent” is based on the second book in Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” trilogy. It’s set in a future world where people are divided up into five factions based on personality traits: Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), and Erudite (the intelligent). Divergents are people who possess multiple traits and are therefore considered dangerous to society.

And here lies my problem with the whole series. I get that science fiction is often all about metaphor and allegory and whatnot but this is stupid. People don’t just have one character trait. You can be peaceful and honest, brave and intelligent. Divergence shouldn’t be the exception it should be the norm. Plus, being selfless, peaceful, honest, brave and intelligent isn’t nearly as cool as shooting laser beams out of your eyes.

insurgent-2015-movie-posters01Anyway, there’s this divergent named Tris (Shailene Woodley) who is on the run from the authorities with her boyfriend Four (Theo James), brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and troublemaker Peter (Miles Teller). They did something in the last film to upset the head of state — Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet) — but I don’t remember what.

Jeanine comes into possession of a mysterious box that can only be opened by a divergent. Jeanine really wants to open the box but not just any divergent can open it. You can guess which one can.

Tris and Four hook up with the underground rebel alliance — because all sci-fi dystopian thrillers have an underground rebel alliance — and it turns out Four’s estranged mother Evelyn (Naomi Watts) is the rebel leader. This distracted me not because it was some shocking plot twist, but because Evelyn hardly looked old enough to be Four’s mother.

Skipping over a bunch of stuff…Tris surrenders herself to Jeanine so she can go through a number of nifty special-effects trials and we can find out what the big secret is in the box.

I am beginning to think I am not the target audience for Young Adult material. I wasn’t a big “Harry Potter” fan although I appreciated the quality of the films; I hated the “Twilight” series and found nothing to appreciate there; I’m so-so on “The Hunger Games” and I’m hoping they don’t make any more “Maze Runners” for me to sit through. And those are just the ones I’ve seen.

As far as “Insurgent” goes, it’s a very mixed bag. I do like Woodley but I have a hard time finding such a skinny person can be such a badass fighter. I’m impressed with the talent lineup they have in the older characters. I’m not impressed by the dialogue a lot of the time. The story feels tired and played out.

If you got interested in seeing this movie after viewing the trailers (that did it for me) be warned that all the good special effects scenes are pretty much the last half-hour of the movie. It’s a slog to get there.

 

 

 

At The Movies: Run All Night

Liam Neeson continues his run as an action hero with the new thriller “Run All Night.”

Neeson stars as Jimmy Conlon, an aging hitman who — in his prime — was the best friend and right-hand man of mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). Maguire now lives a life of luxury while claiming to be a legitimate businessman. Jimmy sleeps in a bar because he can’t afford heat in his dingy apartment, haunted by the faces of all the people he’s killed.

MV5BMTU2ODI3ODEyOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTM3NTQzNDE@._V1_SX214_AL_Jimmy is estranged from his son Mike (Joel Kinnaman), who lives a modest life with wife and two children and earns money driving for a limousine service. Shawn would be better off estranged for his son Danny (Boyd Holbrook), a cruel punk who wants to get dad back into the drug business.

When Danny’s business deal goes south because Shawn rejects it, Danny kills the man with whom he was trying to make the deal. Mike witnesses the murder and now Danny decides he has to kill the witness. But before he can pull the trigger on Mike, Jimmy pulls the trigger on him.

Despite their lifelong friendship, Shawn declares Jimmy’s son must die as repayment for Danny’s death. Jimmy and Mike run off into the night, determined to stay alive as Shawn marshals all his goons against them.

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, “Run All Night” is about the most straightforward movie I’ve seen in some time. There are no twists and turns. Everything goes down exactly as you’d expect. There’s the car chase; the bad-ass, seemingly indestructible assassin (Common); there’s bad cops and that one good cop who’s been dogging Jimmy for years; a cabin in the woods; there’s even a cat-and-mouse game at a deserted railroad yard.

Yet for all its predictability, I enjoyed “Run All Night.” It delivers all the action and thrills it promises. Nothing more, nothing less. Neeson and Harris are reliable as always. I’m not as familiar with Kinnaman but he held his own.

Spring Break At The Zoo

Many male 20-somethings spend Spring Break at Cabo or some other exotic locale filled with young women in bikinis and alcohol.

My son spent his at the zoo with his old man.

I’m not saying it was his idea, but I’m pretty sure The Wife wouldn’t let me take him to Cabo. Besides, we only had one day to hang out.

It was Monday. Unseasonably warm. Too nice to sit around the house and do nothing. I figured the zoo was a safe bet. After all, it was a beautiful weekend so no doubt everyone had already gone to the zoo on Saturday or Sunday. And everyone will be at work or school on Monday, right?

“Take our zoo friends card,” The Wife says. “You can get train passes. He loves the train. And he can ride the carousel. He loves the carousel.”

000_0353We arrived around 10:30 a.m. and the parking lot was practically full. Does no one work anymore? Don’t kids go to school? At least I was able to find a parking place.

Went inside The Living World where they had refurbished the entrance. There was a line of maybe four/five families at the front desk. I stopped there to get our train/carousel tickets. After several minutes of the line not moving, we moved on.

First stop: The bears! First enclosure: closed. Second enclosure: closed. Penguin and Puffin house: open. But who wants to go in and look at smelly birds? Polar Bear enclosure: under renovation. Sigh.

The carousel was next. Walked up to the ticket booth and flashed my card.

“Sorry. This card is for ‘zoo-goers.’ You need to be at the ‘family’ level to get carousel passes.”

Funny. Never had that problem before. Sorry, but I’m not paying to ride a merry-go-round. It’s embarrassing enough doing it for free.

Made our way to the ape enclosure where — you guessed it — there were no apes monkeying around.

You’d think this would be annoying but I learned a long time ago that when you go to the zoo you have to look at it as one big walking track where occasionally you might see an animal. Go for the exercise, not the nature. You won’t be disappointed that way.

Went through the underwater sea-lion tunnel and watched a trio of sea lions swim about. The sea-lion show was closed.

Walked over to a train station. The train was closed.

Is this for real? Do you know what wasn’t closed? The food court and the gift shops.

 

Went to the River’s Edge where there was a sign at the entrance — I’m not making any of this up — stating that the midpoint of the exhibit was closed, meaning you could walk all the way down to the hippo pool, but then you’d have to turn around and walk back to the entrance, then go around to the exit and enter there to walk to the elephant enclosure, then walk back out the way you came.

We’re here for the exercise. We’re here for the exercise.

Fortunately the elephants never disappoint. They are always out, milling around. The rhino was out too, which was nice. The hippos are always fun to watch.

Went into the insectarium for the first time. I always assumed you had to pay to go in, but not true. Or maybe that’s what Laurie told me so that she wouldn’t have to go into the insect house. We didn’t spend much time there but the highlight was a picture of an old Avengers comic I own that was hanging up spotlighting Mantis, an obscure ’70s Avenger that I’m fond of. Oh, and the butterflies were nice.

After that it was lunch time. I was too lazy to pack a picnic lunch and besides it’s spring break, so we splurged on expensive zoo food. I thought about waiting and going somewhere else for a late lunch but they had gyros and my curiosity got the better of me. Zoo gyros are about what you’d expect. Still, even a bad gyro is pretty tasty.

After lunch we headed up the hill to see the lions and tigers (which were asleep) and the giraffes (which were indoors). I never go indoors due to the smell but after multiple disappointments I was determined to see those giraffes.

It was not worth it. Animals really stink.

The next day Andrew turned 24. Laurie likes to point out that when she was 24 she graduated law school, passed the bar exam and got married. I doubt if Andrew will be doing all that this year. Or when he’s 64.

000_0351

And he won’t leave me to run off to Cabo either.

 

On Stage: The Phantom Of The Opera

According to my archives (which could be wrong), the last time “The Phantom of the Opera” played The Fox in St. Louis was 2009. That’s a long hiatus for a production that used to seemingly show up every six months.

Taking a break was probably a good thing. Anyone who really wanted to see “Phantom” has probably done so by now, either on stage or the 2004 movie version. So if you’re bringing it back, do you keep it the same or shake it up a bit?

Cameron Mackintosh has gone the latter route. But you can’t really change the music, which means you can’t really change the story, so what’s left? Staging and set design, of course. Advertisements for this latest “Phantom” production promise a whole new look for the show.

Sadly, given my inability to remember anything past yesterday, I don’t recall much about the look of previous “Phantom” shows. I remember the boat scene but that’s about it. That’s OK, because The Wife remembers everything. I’m not a big “Phantom” fan, but my wife is, which is another good reason for bringing her along.

Chris Mann and Katie Travis in "The Phantom of the Opera." Matthew Murphy photo

Chris Mann and Katie Travis in “The Phantom of the Opera.” Matthew Murphy photo

The story, based on a novel by Gaston Leruox and transformed into a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe, is the same as it ever was. A mysterious, disfigured man calling himself “The Phantom” (Chris Mann) torments the owners and players of the Paris Opera House. He’s particularly keen on a young singer named Christine (Katie Travis). While she appreciates the vocal lessons, she’s more interested in her old friend Raoul (Storm Lineberger).

This is a pretty first-rate production of “Phantom.” The actors and musicians are in top form. Travis makes a very good Christine while Mann is a decent Phantom (The Wife and I agree that we’ve seen better Phantoms). The costumes were colorful and striking. There were a lot more pyrotechnics than I recall from previous versions.

On the negative side I will never stop being annoyed at multiple people singing different things at the same time.

Which brings us to the big new draw — the set design. For the most part I liked it. It’s basically one large, rotating cylinder that opens up into different sets. At intermission The Wife informed me of all the differences that I had indeed forgotten. She wasn’t too crazy about the changes at first but by the end of the show she had come to appreciate them.

The one change I didn’t care for involved the “Masquerade” sequence. The new version takes place in a mirrored room that feels claustrophobic as opposed to the open staircase of the original.

“The Phantom of the Opera” runs through March 15 at the Fox Theatre. http://www.fabulousfox.com/

At The Movies: CHAPPiE

“CHAPPiE” is an odd science fiction movie. This should come as no surprise since it was made by Neill Blomkamp, who gave us the equally odd sci-fi films “District 9″ and “Elysium.”

The story takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the human police force has been replaced by robocops. Only these aren’t cyborgs, they’re 100 percent robot cops.

Chappie_posterThese robots — called scouts — are the invention of Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), who works for a company run by Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver). Wilson’s co-worker Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) isn’t happy with the success of the scouts because it means his project (an even larger robotic monstrosity called The Moose) has been put in mothballs.

Wilson’s latest project is artificial intelligence, but Bradley doesn’t want her totally compliant police force to develop a mind of its own so she rejects the proposal. Wilson then secretly install the A.I. into a damaged scout that had been scheduled for the scrap heap.

And here’s where things get odd. The scout is stolen by a trio of thugs — Ninja (Watkin Tudor Jones), Yolandi (Yolandi Visser) and Yankie (Jose Pablo Cantillo). Yolandi names the robot Chappie (Sharlto Copley). The childlike robot in turn refers to Ninja and Yolandi as Daddy and Mommy.

Ninja needs Chappie to help with a big heist because he owes a lot of money to a local crime boss. Chappie’s programming won’t let him do anything illegal, so Ninja and Yankie have to be creative in getting Chappie’s help. Meanwhile, the boys are busy teaching Chappie the gangsta lifestyle while Yolandi is really getting into the whole mommy role.

But when Chappie is caught on film helping rob an armored car, Bradley gives Moore the go-ahead to set loose The Moose.

“CHAPPiE” is a big step up from the disappointing “Elysium” and more in the ballpark of “District 9,” which I didn’t love as much as a lot of critics. It had its flaws, especially in the latter half, and that’s true here as well.

Still, the director’s visual style is still unique and the movie has a good helping of humor, action and drama. The story’s full of holes and your enjoyment of it will depend largely on how you feel about the characters. Weaver doesn’t get much to do and Jackman is a one-dimensional villain here but I did enjoy the interplay between Chappie and his thug family.

The ending is a bit odd — par for the course — and I have trouble believing Chappie could pull off what he did. “CHAPPiE” wasn’t anything like what i was expecting and that’s a good thing. I’m not sure it’s that good of a movie but I had fun with it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At The Comic Book Shop: All New Hawkeye 1

There’s a new Hawkeye title on the stands this week and as usual I’m here to beg you to buy it so that there will be another issue out next month.

All-New_Hawkeye_Vol_1_1_TextlessNow those of you with long memories may be saying, “I thought there was already a Hawkeye comic out and it was doing pretty well and winning awards and getting lots of praise. What happened to it?”

Well, welcome to the world of comic book publishing. It seems the previous volume of “Hawkeye,” by Matt Fraction and David Aja, ran into some scheduling problems oh, about a year ago, and the last issue still hasn’t gone to press. Apparently tired of waiting, Marvel hired a new creative team to put out a new “Hawkeye” comic while we wait for the old one to finish.

Marvel Comics: Professionalism in Meeting Publishing Deadlines is Not Our Superpower.

I’ll say more about this when they finally get around publishing the last issue of the Fraction/Aja “Hawkeye,” but for now let’s deal with the issue at hand.

HAWKEYE2015001-DC41-0fa85“All New Hawkeye” No. 1 is by the all new team of Jeff Lemire (writer) and Ramon Perez (artist). It picks up where the previous volume left off (one assumes, since the previous volume isn’t finished): Clint Barton (Hawkeye) is still getting into trouble with Kate Bishop (Hawkeye) and there is a lot of verbal sparring as they take aim at the hordes of Hydra.

S.H.I.E.L.D. has sent them on a mission to find a secret weapons cache and this opening issue probably has more traditional superhero action than all of the previous volume put together. Meanwhile a separate storyline looks at Clint and his brother Barney when they were young. Apparently they liked to catch frogs.

I’m not really that interested in Clint’s childhood but the current day story looks promising. The dialogue and character work is spot on. Perez draws the flashbacks in a watercolor style while the Hydra story is more cartoonish and slightly reminiscent of Aja.

All in all a promising start to this latest chapter in the Hawkeye saga.

Guardians_Team-Up_Vol_1_1ALSO OF NOTE:  The first issue of “Guardians Team Up” came out this week. It’s a Guardians of the Galaxy team up book, which just shows you how much Marvel thinks they can milk out of the unexpected success of the GOTG movie. A year ago you couldn’t get anyone to buy a Guardians comic and now they’re doing spin-offs.

For their inaugural issue the Guardians have chosen to team up with — who else? — The Avengers. Hawkeye plays a pretty prominent role in the story which is good. There’s a fair amount of humor as you’d expect. It’s written by Brian Michael Bendis but the real draw is artist Art Adams. Adams is one of the great comic book artists working today and he doesn’t do a lot of books so when he does one you’d best pick it up.