[Adapted from my review of the Broadway production.]
The national tour of the Broadway musical Kinky Boots opened tonight at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts and it is a show that I wholeheartedly recommend. It has a first-rate score, top-notch acting and outstanding dance numbers.
Based on the 2005 movie, Kinky Boots tells the story of young Charlie Price, next in line to inherit his family’s venerable shoe factory. Being of the modern generation the twenty-something wants nothing to do with the family business and, instead, heads to London with his fiancée to start a life in the world of marketing. Before they can set-up house Charlie’s dad passes away and the young man is back in Northampton, England as head of Price & Sons. Unfortunately, he quickly realizes the firm is going broke, losing out to cheap, foreign shoe imports. A chance encounter with Lola, a drag queen, inspires Charlie to ditch the stuffy men’s footwear and to manufacture wildly flamboyant boots for the niche market of drag queens, cross dressers, and others. He recruits Lola to design glitzy, high-heeled boots as they scurry to save Price & Sons from oblivion. Along the way Lola deals with his own self-worth and the backlash and narrow-mindedness from the more provincial employees. At the same time he subtly and craftily inspires the staff, including Charlie, to face their own prejudices and preconceived notions.
There are a number of reasons that make Kinky Boots work. First, there is the score by 80’s pop icon, Cyndi Lauper. Making her Broadway debut as a composer, Lauper ‘s songs are buoyant, feisty, yet have a real Broadway traditional feel to them. While there are heartfelt ballads, Lauper doesn’t neglect her rock roots, serving up a healthy dose of high-energy numbers.
Playwright Harvey Fierstein won a Tony Award for writing the libretto for another cross-dressing musical, La Cage Aux Folles (which, incidentally is the next show at the Goodspeed Opera Houses’s season). In 1983, when that show opened, drag queens prancing on the stage and the backstage love story was considered a bit risqué and daring. Fast forward thirty years and with the advent of reality television and changing social norms Kinky Boots is now more a La Cage Aux Folles lite. While mirroring the film’s premise, Fierstein slowly and effectively paints a portrait of two individuals—Lola and Charlie--on the surface so different, but in reality so much the same. The book writer also knows how to pull our heartstrings and by the time the first set of kinky boots rolls off the assembly line the audience is cheering.
The acting corps is led by Kyle Taylor Parker as the gutsy, lust for life drag queen, Lola. Parker embodies his over-the-top being, but also effectively shows the pain and anguish he has dealt with all his life. When he begins work at the shoe factory he nimbly transforms himself into his more “true-to-form,” sedate self as he seeks to balance both sides of his persona.
While Parker can be seen as the driving force of the production Steven Booth as Charlie provides a more contemplative, matter-of-fact counterpoint to Parker’s colorful Lola. In a sense, the ying and yang of the two give Kinky Boots a satisfying symmetry. Booth creditably portrays Charlie as a confused young man searching for his identity and place in the world to a more take charge, knowing individual by the musical’s finale. Other notables in the cast include Lindsay Nicole Chambers as the lovelorn Lauren who delivers a comic gem in “The History of Wrong Guys;” and Joe Coots as Don, a big lug of a man who eventually overcomes his boorish mindset.
Director-Choreographer Jerry Mitchell keeps the story flowing without too many wayward passages. The sexual nature of the musical’s premise, while a central part of the show, is presented in a more family friendly matter. He adroitly balances the more rousing nightclub numbers with Lola and his back-up performers, The Angels, as well as the Act I closing song, “Everybody Say Yeah,” with more intimate moments such as Charlie and Lola’s plaintive “I’m Not My Father’s Son.”
Kinky Boots, a winning musical to celebrate and applaud. Playing at The Bushnell through Sunday, June 28th.