ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
Any resemblance of the new musical Kinky Boots to the 2005 film comedy of the same name is purely intentional, but it is also almost irrelevant. There is little doubt that the intention of the collaborators, Cyndi Lauper, who wrote the music and lyrics and Harvey Fierstein, who wrote the book, was to improve on their source material.And they have done it exceedingly well.
Based on a true story, the British film comedy evidently did not please the majority of critics nor did it do too well as the box-office. It did, however, nurture a cult following not unlike the film Once that was turned into the award-winning hit musical currently on Broadway. Kinky Boots has similarly been resuscitated and revitalized into a terrifically entertaining musical with plenty of heart as well as with a plethora of heels by its collaborators. A significant adjunct to their success is Jerry Mitchell, whose perceptive direction and inventive choreography are a key component to this musical's success.
In Kinky Boots we recognize issues about the struggle many have to being open-mined and tolerant to the many facets of sexual preference and diversity explored in La Cage Aux Folles, and the predominantly juke-box musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The Kinky Boots team is to be commended for this more modestly but no less affably conceived creation .
Set designer David Rockwell has framed the musical with a responsive unit set filled with moving parts, bells and whistles that serves the story within it. There is no room for modesty, however, in the flashy and, indeed, wonderfully kinky creations designed for the drag queens by designer Gregg Barnes.
This vibrant and enjoyable musical not only has more memorable performances but also more muscle than did the film (notwithstanding the sturdy calves that dance and parade about) about a drag queen who turns around the fortunes of a long-established but failing shoe factory.
The fortunes of this musical ultimately reside to a large extent in the astonishingly sophisticated and melodic score composed by rock music genre's most adorable (my opinion) star. Lauper's songs pulsate with a gratifyingly empowerment through Fierstein's heart-warming, but also humorously gritty book. Lauper is making her Broadway debut as composer but also as a lyricist and many of the lyrics reveal her affinity for the poetic illusion. (see quote above).
Kinky Boots boasts a central diva-styled role that comes direct from the revered here-I-am-boys school of performing. There is little doubt from the time we meet the one-of-kind Lola, as played with a refreshingly pugnacious perspicacity by a sensational Billy Porter, that whatever Lola wants, she is likely to get. But it has to be with the help of Charlie (Stark Sands), the factory's young and insecure owner. As the inheritor of his recently deceased father's long-established but now failing business, Sands is not only an engaging and splendid singer and actor but he also strikes a nice balance of power in the light of Porter's obligatory flamboyance. But as we see in Kinky Boots, not all drag queens are alike.
Lola gives us a particularly poignant perspective of a man who has found his niche. We see him as ten-year-old Simon (Marquise Neal) who would rather put on his mother's red high-heeled shoes than become the tough, manly prize-fighter that his father is training him to be. Putting on the shoes, the talented young Mr. Neal belts a short refrain from "The Most Beautiful Thing" out of the park.
Motivated by Lola, who has gives up her job performing in a London club, The Blue Angel, to become his designer, Charlie has to not only deal with the disintegrating relationship with his self-centered and unsupportive fiancée Nicola (Celina Carvajal) who wants Charlie to sell the business and move with her to London, but also with the anxiety of the workers who worry that their jobs are at stake.
Standouts among them are Lauren, who, as played by a delightfully idiosyncratic Annaleigh Ashford and Don (a super performance by Daniel Stewart Sherman) as the bearish homophobe who challenges Lola to a fight at the local Fisticuff's Bar. This cleverly devised, if also somewhat silly scene, is played within a ring and serves as a cap, as well as a surprise, after we have seen the young Lola/Simon practicing his sparring earlier in the show.
The bevy of queens, known at the Angels, dress up the stage as characters, and also tear it up as they dig in those heels as a dynamic dancing Greek chorus. The scene in which the haut-couture-d Angels make a visit to the factory and assure the workers that they have something to strive for is a dancing highlight as part of it is performed on conveyor belts, as exciting as the song that drives it, "Sex is in the Heel." "What a Woman Wants," a particularly funny song for them in Act II, in which they challenge the men's ideas about masculinity is another show-stopping winner.
Although it does seem to come out of the blue,the musical's biggest dramatic jolt involves Charlie's change in attitude toward Lola, a change that will undergo some convolutions in regard to accepting each other for who they are. The one song that affects us deeply and emotionally is "I'm Not My Father's Son." It gives us an insight into Charlie's attempt to disassociate himself from his father's legacy, as it also, through its dual musical narrative, considers the torment behind Lola's decision to stand up and be his own man.
But be assured that all will be resolved to everyone's satisfaction by the time the factory's collection of high fetish-fashioned boots hit the runway in Milan for a finale with an a obligatory rousing number, "Raise You Up/Just Be." It's designated to make you cheer. And you will.
Lauper and Feinstein have proven themselves fortuitously formidable partners who have found a formula that has transformed a so-what film into a so-fine musical.
Slings & Arrows- view 1st episode free
Anything Goes Cast Recording
Our review of the show
Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show