Reviews Broadway Published 5 April 2013

Kinky Boots

Al Hirschfeld Theatre ⋄ Began 3rd March 2013

A knockout new musical.

Richard Patterson

It’s time to dust off those bright red stripper boots you’ve been keeping in storage (no, not the burgundy ones — the red ones). In a spring chock-full of revivals and new solo plays, celebratory dancing is required to herald the arrival of Kinky Boots, opening tonight at Broadway’s Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Amongst the crop of new musicals this year, British import Matilda and American-made Kinky Boots, both adaptations, have emerged as the standouts of the season.

But for all of Matilda‘s whimsy and imagination, I’m tempted to give the edge to Kinky Boots, a knockout new musical with a solid, funny book by Harvey Fierstein (let’s hand him a Lifetime Achievement in Musical Book Structure Tony Award already) and a fresh original score by pop songstress Cyndi Lauper, who infuses the music here with her signature pop motifs without sacrificing specificity of character.

The show is off to a strong start with its opening number, “The Most Beautiful Thing in the World,” a lively paean to shoes that ties together our two protagonists’ plights, as well as their obstacles. Leading men Charlie and Lola couldn’t be more different — Charlie is the son of a Northampton shoe manufacturer, and Lola is a drag performer — but their lives collide unexpectedly when Charlie inherits the family business, Price & Son, and needs a new niche market to which to cater: men who wear heels.

Based on a 2005 film of the same name, Kinky Boots is a rare thing — a bromantic comedy with lavishly gay themes that appeals to the masses. Leave it to Harvey Fierstein (book writer of landmark gay musical La Cage aux Folles, itself a breakout hit) to keep the story’s sexy edge without leaving stuffier “traditional” patrons in the dust. Early on, when we get a taste of Lola’s act at the Angel Club, we’re welcomed slyly: “Ladies, gentlemen, and those who have yet to make up their minds… I invite you to look around. You may see something you want.”

Well, there’s something for everybody here. For drag enthusiasts, there’s a fierce band of “Angels” (basically the equivalent of La Cage‘s Cagelles) and a starry performance from velvety-voiced Billy Porter as Lola (At the performance I attended, the gruff, presumably straight patron behind me expressed, rather loudly, his shock that the drag performers on stage were actually men.) For those averse to queens (or those who’ve yet to succumb to their charms), there’s Charlie — who offers theatergoers a neutral lens (at least initially) through which to view Lola’s world. Ultimately, its Charlie’s own attempt to understand his newfound collaborator and reluctant friend, and the notion that to change your life you sometimes have to change your mind,  that the musical turns on.

Fierstein’s book is packed with pithy quips, but it’s also got immense heart. Though Lola is the showier protagonist, Charlie (Stark Sands, likable and in fine voice) is just as well-drawn. Both do well by Lauper’s excellent score, particularly during their character-revealing Act I duet, “I’m Not My Father’s Son,” in which they reveal their mutual insecurities, and in their climactic Act II solos (“The Soul of a Man” for Charlie and “Hold Me in Your Heart,” sung with Whitney Houston-esque gusto and dramatic back-lighting by Lola). Annaleigh Ashford as factory employee Lauren gets the show’s most distinctly “Lauper” number, “The History of Wrong Guys,” which she hits out of the park, underscoring Lauper’s witty lyrics with top-notch comic timing.

Director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell focuses a bit disproportionately on the cast’s arm movements in a show that’s all about boots (perhaps the show’s factory worker cast members had difficulty in their boots), but he also keeps the show moving at a steady, satisfying clip right up to its flashy conclusion. To be sure, Kinky Boots is mostly glossy entertainment — but aside from dozens of kickass pairs of shiny boots, it’s also got something to say (even if its message of acceptance has been expressed before). Unlike many a new musical, Lauper’s hook-centric show features a couple of real earworms to treasure in the days to come.

For its sassy title, Kinky Boots is mostly good clean fun, but I suspect even the audience’s raunch-lovers won’t mind considering the kick of elation the show ultimately inspires.

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Richard Patterson

A graduate of New York University with a degree in Dramatic Literature, Richard was deputy theatre editor at musicOMH.com from 2008-2011 and New York Editor of Exeunt from 2011-2016. He is excited to continue on as a contributor. With a penchant for Sondheim, the Bard, and Beckett, as well as for new writing, theatergoing highlights include Fiona Shaw's Winnie in "Happy Days," Derek Jacobi's Lear, Jonathan Pryce in "The Caretaker," and Chiwetel Ejiofor's Othello at the Donmar. Richard's criticism has been published in The Sondheim Review.

Kinky Boots Show Info


Directed by Jerry Mitchell

Written by Harvey Fierstein

Choreography by Jerry Mitchell

Cast includes Adinah Alexander, Eric Anderson, Annaleigh Ashford, Aaron Bantum, Eugene Barry-Hill, Stephen Berger, Caroline Bowman, Josh Caggiano, Paul Canaan, Celina Carvajal, Sandra DeNise, Andy Kelso, Kevin Smith Kirkwood, Eric Leviton, Ellyn Marie Marsh, John Jeffrey Martin, Marquise Neal, Marcus Neville, Clifton Oliver, Kyle Taylor Parker, Nathan Peck, Robert Pendilla, Jennifer Perry, Billy Porter, Kyle Post, Tory Ross, Stark Sands, Daniel Sherman, Lucia Spina, Charlie Sutton, Joey Taranto, Sebastian Hedges Thomas

Original Music Cyndi Lauper (music and lyrics)

Link http://www.kinkybootsthemusical.com

Running Time 2 hrs, 30 min (with one intermission)

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