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Kinky Boots

nytheatre.com review by Julie Congress
April 6, 2013

Kinky Boots

Stark Sands, Billy Porter, and Annaleigh Ashford (center) in a scene from Kinky Boots | Matthew Murphy

Kinky Boots is sheer fun. With a talented cast, upbeat music, glitzy costumes and a strong message of acceptance, this new musical from Harvey Fierstein (book) and Cyndi Lauper (music and lyrics) delivers the requisite Broadway singing and dancing, but stands out with its heart and hopeful view for humanity.

Charlie Price, against his own wishes, has inherited his father’s shoe factory in Northern England. Poor Charlie discovers that the factory is in a perilous financial situation and it’s up to Charlie to preserve his family’s legacy and the jobs of its employees. He realizes that the only way to save Price & Son is to find a niche market to make shoes for. Conveniently, he runs into a vivacious drag queen named Lola who bemoans the fact that they just don’t make fabulous stiletto boots that can bear the weight of a man. The unlikely duo team up to create the world’s first sturdy stilettos for men; with Lola’s designs and Charlie’s knowledge of shoes they are sure to wow the shoe world and subsequently save the factory by presenting their new “kinky boots” at the upcoming fashion show in Milan! As you would imagine, they encounter a few bumps on their way – Don, who works at the factory, ain’t too pleased to be workin’ with someone like Lola, Charlie’s high-strung girlfriend wants him to sell the factory and move back to London, Lola struggles to fit into a town very similar to the one he grew up in (and escaped from), and power ends up getting to Charlie’s head.

The story is not to be questioned too carefully and certain plot points (like the potential sale of the factory) really make very little sense, but it serves as a quirky framework to support great characters (including factory employee Lauren who comically pines for Charlie) and a fabulous culminating fashion show. It’s also important to note, and wonderfully progressive, that when the factory crew (who, by the way, come in every shape and size) are first told (or rather wooed via song) that they will no longer be making comfortable, drab looking shoes and will now be making sexy red boots for drag queens, not a single one of them has any problem or hesitation with the idea (Don’s close mindedness has to do with the proximity of Lola and his “girls”, not the existence of cross dressers in general).

Billy Porter gives a knock-out performance as Lola – not only is his singing, dancing and drag amazing, but he has created a real, not just a campy, character full of hopes, desires, fears and insecurities (though in his wig, sparkles and stilettos you wouldn’t assume so at first glance). Stark Sands gives a solid performance as Charlie, who is trying so earnestly to find his place in the world and do what’s best for everyone. Annaleigh Ashford is hysterical as Lauren, with more comedic, larger-than-life facial expressions, groans and gestures embodying her pining love than one could think conceivable. Daniel Stewart Sherman’s Don is neither villainous nor over-the-top, but feels a very honest depiction of a rather close-minded man who nonetheless has the strength of character to learn and grow. Lola’s ensemble of female impersonators are insanely talented dancers and balance well -- and appear to have a lot of fun interacting -- with the ensemble of factory workers.

Director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell plays well off of (and on top of) David Rockwell’s set, though it’s hard for anything to top the dancing on conveyer belts number which ends act one. Lauper’s music is high-energy fun and moves the story along well, although many of the songs do sound very similar to one another. Gregg Barnes’ costumes sparkle and shine as the boots get increasingly more fantastical and extravagant with every scene.

Kinky Boots depicts a world – our world – in which people are inherently good and capable of growth and acceptance. What an important (and true!) message – and what a fun way to share it!