Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Kinky Boots
Mountain Play Association

Also see Patrick's recent reviews of Everybody's Talking About Jamie and The Lehman Trilogy

Miss Jaye and Cody Craven
Photo by Clara Franco
Every year since 1913 (save for WWII and COVID), the Mountain Play Association has produced one show (very occasionally two) in the Cushing Memorial Amphitheater, 2000 feet above the San Francisco Bay, near the top of Mt. Tamalpais. It's a delightful, very Marin tradition, and much of the fun is in the setting of the venue itself, and how you choose to arrive.

The amphitheater is set on an east-facing slope, mostly protected from the prevailing winds, and looks out over the slopes of Mt. Tam and all the way down to the Bay. In 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps created terraced stone seating to accommodate as many as 4000 attendees. To get to the show, most patrons ride shuttle busses ($10) from Mill Valley. Others drive, though parking is limited (and is a $40 supplement). Some, after riding the shuttle up the mountain, choose to hike back down. The very fittest of souls (including Talkin' Broadway's South Bay critic Eddie Reynolds) hike up and down the mountain!

For all that effort (even with the most premium parking, some walking is still involved), one hopes the show itself will be worth it. For the most part, they are. The outdoor setting and massive stage allow dramatic fillips that would be difficult–if not impossible–to pull off in other theaters. The Mountain Play Association's production of South Pacific a few years back included a troop truck driving onstage, an actual watchtower (always staffed with an "armed" guard), and an end-of-show flyover from WWII-era fighter planes.

Many patrons bring picnic lunches and make a day of it. The Mountain Play Association even offers Patron Circle seating which includes a four-course lunch as part of their "Dining in the Woods" package. ($190 for adults, $185 for seniors, and $125 for those 4-13.

Yet, for the delightful, open-air surroundings and natural beauty of the Mt. Tamalpais State Park (the views on the drive up–of the Bay, San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean–are spectacular), this year's production, Cyndi Lauper's (music and lyrics) and Harvey Fierstein's (book) Kinky Boots, fails to live up to the grandness of the venue. If it weren't for the spectacularly campy drag glory of Miss Jaye in the role of Lola, the show would have been a near complete debacle.

Though there were some positive elements apart from Miss Jaye's performance–a grand (if a little dowdy) set with a giant rotating element at center stage, and a charming turn by Cody Craven as Charlie, the son who inherits his family's failing shoe factory but is inspired by Lola to enter a new niche market, the "kinky boots" of the title–overall the show fails on too many levels to recommend it. The choreography (by Gary Stanford, Jr., who also directed) is bland and uninspired. Even with relatively simple moves, the cast has a hard time staying in unison. One cast member even looks like one of the dancers who gets cut at the beginning of A Chorus Line: you can see him watching his fellow dancers, but always a beat behind and even then sometimes kicking with the wrong leg or raising the wrong hand above his head.

The chorus cannot seem to sing in unison or–worse–on pitch through much of the show. Though Craven has a gentle, lilting sort of tenor, he too comes up flat on some of his notes, and though his mic stopped working midway through act two at the performance I attended, we could still hear the occasional clam.

I applaud the Mountain Play Association for their commitment to theatre and for exposing so many young people (lots of families come to the shows, and the kids love climbing trees and rocks at intermission) to the joys of live theatre. It's disappointing that this year's production came up short. But as sports fans say, "wait until next year!"

Kinky Boots runs through June 16, 2024, at the Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre, Mount Tamalpais State Park, Mill Valley CA. The June 8 and 9 performances are ASL interpreted. Guidance for driving, hiking (to or from) or shuttle bussing to the venue (as well as ticket information) is available at Follow their directions carefully to ensure an enjoyable experience. Sunday clothes not required, but do dress in layers, as conditions can change quickly. And though the MPA doesn't suggest bringing binoculars or opera glasses, I do. General admission tickets are $5 for adults, $45 for seniors (65+), $25 for those 4-25. A limited number of premium tickets (including padded stadium chairs) for reserved seating in a shaded area (and some with lunch) range from $75-$190.