Advertisement
Home > To See or Not To See > Review: “Kinky Boots” Delivers Soles with Soul

Review: “Kinky Boots” Delivers Soles with Soul

April 4th, 2013

The cast of "Kinky Boots." (photo: Matt Murphy)

I suppose it’s easier to win a battle when you feel the world is on your side. Such is the case inside the Al Hirschfeld Theatre where Kinky Boots, a new musical by Harvey Fierstein (book) and Cyndi Lauper (music and lyrics) has recently set up shop.

The show’s opening number, “The Most Beautiful Thing,” begins with a flashback of the show’s two lead characters as children, discovering their own relationship to shoes — Charlie is the son of a shoe factory owner; Lola is a drag queen in the making. As little Lola (played by Marquise Neal) struts around the stage in red heels, the audience goes wild as if it’s populated with the kind of progressive young parents who show off their sons on YouTube dressing up like Disney princesses for Halloween. This audience wants to see the underdog succeed, and in Kinky Boots it’s a win-win as both Charlie and Lola have mountains to climb (albeit one in sensible shoes and the other in stilettos).

Inspired by the 2005 film of the same name, Kinky Boots follows the adult Charlie (played by Stark Sands) and Lola (played by Billy Porter) as the unconventional pair take on the task of saving Charlie’s failing family shoe factory by converting it into a manufacturing facility for high heel boots for drag queens. At first glance, the antagonists are clear-cut. Charlie’s fiancée (Celina Carvajal) would rather be living in cosmopolitan London instead of Northampton. The factory worker (Daniel Stewart Sherman) wants to keep making men’s loafers rather than be bossed around by someone light in them. But their foils (or lack thereof, as neither character takes any substantial action to shake up the plot) pale compared to the deeper constructs of Fierstein’s book.

Both men’s battles are with their past. Charlie struggles to reconcile the death of his father and his new role as the leader in a business that he never wanted to be a part of. Lola, outside of the comfort of cosmopolitan London, is thrust back into a world that he escaped many years ago, bringing back memories of a father who could not accept him.

take the jump for the complete review and video from Kinky Boots

Cyndi Lauper, a formidable force who has been on the music charts for more than 25 years, has written a score that bristles with pop flair but also stays true to the musical theater form. Inspired by icons like androgynous disco and soul singer Sylvester and 90s alternative rock band Weezer, she is equally comfortable penning rousing dance numbers like “Sex Is in the Heel” as she is heartfelt ballads like “I’m Not My Father’s Son.”  I predict a Tony award for Cyndi Lauper! (You heard it hear first.)

Lauper, who spoke of her creative process with book writer Harvey Fierstein at a recent New York Times TimesTalk, was also an influential factor in the show’s sound design (officially credited to John Shivers). While not an element that typically receives bells and whistles from audiences or critics, the audible depth and clarity is worth mentioning. The mixing shies away from the typical Broadway trebles and instead boosts from the bottom, enriching the sound throughout the theater. And on occasion the leads need it.

Billy Porter (left) and Stark Sands (right) in “Kinky Boots.” (photo: Matt Murphy)

As Charlie, Stark Sands brings a refreshing, unaffected and alarmingly natural carriage to his performance. At times bumbling and at others empowered, it’s easy to believe that Charlie is struggling to define his role as a man in the shadow of his deceased father. His vocals can sound strained through and one wishes that the keys were perhaps a step lower to preserve him for an eight-show week.

Billy Porter’s Lola is street smart and with a heart of gold surrounded by barbed wire. He chews his way through his fair share of punch lines (and punches in an inventive boxing scene) as anyone who has seen an authentic drag show can affirm is the real deal. And when he shows up in the factory wearing ‘normal’ clothes, an uncomfortable shift occurs that reveals the character’s decades-old identity crisis. Porter hits his mark hard in his eleven o’clock number “Hold Me In Your Heart” as he channels his inner diva in all her glory

Fierstein’s book ties up Kinky Boots in a Broadway-ready package but forgoes the typical love story. The audience sees a smattering of Charlie’s disintegrating engagement as well as the blossoming romantic interest of Anna, a quirky factory worker brilliantly portrayed by Annaleigh Ashford.

Helmed by Jerry Mitchell (who also directed/choreographed Legally Blonde), the production is at its tightest when spattered with drag queens and ingenious stage craft by set designer David Rockwell. The deeper, intimate connection between Charlie and Lola feels somehow less sure in terms of staging and intent, as if Mitchell wanted to buff any scratch or scuff of Kinky Boots’ darker side.

Even so, Charlie and Lola ultimately find their rhythm and hit the catwalk (along with the rest of the cast) in a triumphant and celebratory finale that will surely dig Kinky Boots’ heels in Broadway for a good, long run.

Kinky Boots
Al Hirschfeld Theatre
302 West 45th Street
www.kinkybootsthemusical.com

Facebook Twitter Bookmark Review: “Kinky Boots” Delivers Soles with Soul  at del.icio.us Google Bookmarks Digg Review: “Kinky Boots” Delivers Soles with Soul Mixx Review: “Kinky Boots” Delivers Soles with Soul Bookmark Review: “Kinky Boots” Delivers Soles with Soul  at YahooMyWeb Bookmark using any bookmark manager! Print this article! E-mail this story to a friend!