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‘Kinky Boots’ kicks up its heels at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia

Currently afoot at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, the Broadway musical “Kinky Boots” is so flashy and silly that it’s guaranteed to snap you out of a blah winter mood.

If you’re wondering how this show about shoes and boots came to be, it goes back to a 2005 British movie about the employees of a family-owned shoe factory in the town of Northampton, England, who are facing unemployment in a changing footwear industry.

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They have been making traditional men’s shoes for decades, but their potential salvation will involve a rather unorthodox change in merchandise from the staid to fashion runway superstars.

If their working-class humor, admirable determination and reliance upon showbiz glitz seem agreeably formulaic, that’s because “Kinky Boots” will remind you of a couple of other Broadway shows, namely, “The Full Monty” and “Billy Elliot the Musical.”

The 2013 stage adaptation of “Kinky Boots” has some first-rate talent behind it. The composer is Cyndi Lauper, whose career is epitomized by the empowering song “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Although her score does not include that song or, for that matter, any of her other pop hits, her music for “Kinky Boots” does have a peppy quality. It’s not an especially memorable score, but the agreeably upbeat songs work on a scene-by-scene basis. What really matters here is that the boots walking down that runway are complemented by cheerful music.

Also notable, is that the book for this musical is by Harvey Fierstein, whose credentials include “Torch Song Trilogy” and “La Cage Aux Folles.” Although his dialogue pretty much adheres to a predictably affirmative formula in “Kinky Boots,” there are conversational zingers along the way. In a show with a thematic agenda that includes celebrating sexual diversity, Fierstein definitely gets his points across. Yet despite the agreeable humanist platform, some bluntly phrased statements in the show seem better suited to a newspaper editorial.

While the overly obvious scenes are dramatically flat, they’re definitely making worthwhile inspirational points, and those valuable messages permeate even the silliest of the surrounding comedic scenes.

There’s genuine emotional substance in the otherwise loopy “Kinky Boots.” It did not always come across to best advantage in the Broadway production that appeared at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre in 2015, but seeing this show at close quarters at Toby’s has the advantage of placing you up close to characters whose shoes and hearts will undergo alteration on the thematic road to that fashion runway.

The character who has the most momentous decisions to make is Charlie Price. When his father, who owns the shoe factory, suddenly dies, Charlie will have to decide whether the provincial factory can be saved. He also has to consider whether to make a new life for himself with his fiancee, Nicola, who seems like she would much rather live in trendy London.

As Charlie, Matt Hirsh does well with bringing out the emotional challenges faced by this young business heir. Even though Hirsh’s singing voice often has a hard-edge that is not easy on the ears, he really conveys the issues confronting this character in songs including “Step One.” As Nicola, MaryKate Brouillet takes the potentially thankless role of the self-absorbed fiancee and makes a fair case for her as somebody with valid business and marital plans.

A chance meeting on a London street with a self-described drag queen named Lola prompts Charlie to come up with a highly unusual plan for salvation. His factory has always made men’s shoes, but what if instead it starts making runway-suitable red boots for men who dress up as women?

This staging of “Kinky Boots” is at its best whenever Lola is around. That’s because the actor embodying Lola, Helen Hayes Award winner DeCarlo Raspberry, is impressively forceful in terms of both acting and singing. In musical numbers including “Hold Me in Your Heart,” “The Land of Lola” and the duet with Hirsh titled “I’m Not My Father’s Son,” Raspberry stands tall in red boots.

Among those standing out in a large and lively supporting cast is Jana Bernard as Lauren, a factory worker who has a crush on Charlie. Bernard is funny and also tugs at the heart in her earnest performance of the song “The History of Wrong Guys.”

Ensuring that all of the performers remain fast on their feet is director and co-choreographer Mark Minnick, whose creative team includes co-choreographer David Singleton, musical director Ross Scott Rawlings, costume designer Janine Sunday, scenic and lighting designer David A. Hopkins and sound designer Mark Smedley.

By the time Lola and some of her smashing London friends don those kinky boots and hit the high-fashion runway in Milan, they look their best in part because of this production’s talented design team.

“Kinky Boots” runs through March 22 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road in Columbia. Call 410-730-8311 or go to tobysdinnertheatre.com.

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