Theater review: Nyoy kicks up a storm in 'Kinky Boots'

Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 01 2017 05:04 PM

Nyoy Volante in full diva mode as Lola, the drag queen and shoe designer, in ‘Kinky Boots.’ Handout photo

MANILA — Performing in drag isn’t new for singer-actor Nyoy Volante.

He made his debut with theater group Atlantis Productions as Angel in a concert version of the musical “Rent” and, during his well-received stint on the celebrity talent contest “Your Face Sounds Familiar,” he wowed audiences with his impersonations of Tina Turner, Katy Perry, Sylvia La Torre and Whitney Houston.

Yet despite these memorable turns, it’s impossible not to be awestruck by Volante’s career-defining performance as the drag queen Lola in Atlantis’ production of “Kinky Boots,” which opened Friday to a thunderous standing ovation at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium of RCBC Plaza, Makati.

After his impressive portrayal of Frankie Valli in last year’s critical hit “Jersey Boys,” also for Atlantis, Volante took on the bigger challenge of stepping into the stiletto boots of Lola, the feisty, professionally-trained-boxer-turned-London-drag-performer, who is at the heart of this 2013 Tony best musical. 

Based on a 2005 British indie film, “Kinky Boots” centers on Charlie Price, a young man who reluctantly tries to keep the family’s shoe business financially afloat after his father dies. Looking for a new product that would allow the company to continue providing employment to their loyal employees amid an economic downturn in Britain, Charlie forges an unlikely partnership with Lola to manufacture high-heeled boots suited for drag queens.

But in the process, Charlie must learn to accept not only Lola but more importantly himself and his destiny as a shoemaker.

Laurence Mossman makes his leading-man debut as Charlie, the reluctant heir of the family’s shoe business in “Kinky Boots” Handout photo

Director Bobby Garcia took a gamble on casting little-known New Zealand actor Laurence Mossman as Charlie. Mossman, who moved to Manila in 2015 to pursue a singing career, is a member of the vocal trio Primo, which performs at Resorts World Manila. He made his theater debut just last year basically as eye candy in Atlantis’ production of “Fun Home.”

Garcia has made high-profile casting bets before and he wins again with Mossman, who has that conservative and timidly handsome look that suits the role perfectly. Gifted with a pleasant tenor, he also proved to be a sensitive singer, especially in the vocally punishing solo “Soul of a Man.”

Nyoy Volante (center) as Lola with his backup group, the Angels. Handout photo

But this is really Volante’s show and “Kinky Boots” kicks into high gear when he is onstage, especially when performing with his backup group, the Angels, whose catwalking and acrobatic dance moves were huge hits with the star-studded opening night crowd.

Volante’s Lola is beyond mere impersonation. He wasn’t just believable as a drag performer; everything about him, from his turns and arm movements to his facial expressions and husky voice, was natural and not exaggerated for cheap, quick laughs. 

And if you think Lola is all about glitter and attitude, as shown in the show-stopping “Sex Is in the Heel,” Volante bares the character’s pains in the affecting “Not My Father’s Son,” and goes on full diva mode in the power ballad “Hold Me in Your Heart.”

Apart from the two leads, Yannah Laurel also gave a memorable performance as one of the factory workers who has a crush on Charlie, displaying great comedic timing as she made the most of her solo “The History of Wrong Guys,” a quirky number that’s quintessential Cyndi Lauper, the ‘80s icon who composed the music of “Kinky Boots.”

Yannah Laurel and Laurence Mossman in a scene from “Kinky Boots. Handout photo

Indeed, Lauper’s songs contribute significantly to the wide appeal of “Kinky Boots,” as she mixed tempos and styles to create a refreshingly unique pop sound that’s contemporary yet timeless. The Act 1 closer, “Everybody Say Yeah,” has a bouncy energy matched by exuberant choreography by Cecile Martinez and performed with joy by the entire cast.

While Act 2 took a more preachy turn that borders on the maudlin, Lauper’s finishing kick, “Raise You Up/Just Be,” is that rare anthemic, message song about LGBT acceptance with an irresistible beat that wouldn’t be out of place as the finale of an arena concert — and a fabulous way to cap off Pride Month.

“Kinky Boots” runs until July 23 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati.