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A CurtainUp Review
Kinky Boots

Feels Like I'm Dancing Across A High Wire
Or Bravely Soaring Off Into The Blue.
Just Like A Rocket Lifts With Sparks And Fire
Feels Like The Magic Never Ending In These.

—(Sung by Simon, kThe young Lola, after putting on his mother's shoes.

Kinky Boots
Billy Porter and several of the Angels
(Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Can you believe, as do the workers in the Northampton, England shoe factory Price & Son, that a shoe is (as the opening number exuberantly proclaims) "The Most Beautiful Thing in the World"? Then there is no doubt that you will enjoy seeing all of the other beautiful things on the stage of the Al Hirschfield Theatre.

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.

Kinky Boots
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Music and Lyrics by Cyndi Lauper
Directed and Choreographed by Jerry Mitchell

Cast: Stephen Berger (Mr. Price), Sepbastian Hedges Thomas (Young Charlie), Marquise Neal (Young Lola), Eugene Barry-Hill (Simon Sr.), Celina Carvajal (Nicola), Stark Sands (Charlie Price), Marcus Neville (George), Daniel Steward Sherman (Don), Annaleigh Ashford (Lauren), Tory Ross (Pat), Andy Kelso (Harry), Billy Porter (Lola), Paul Canaan, Kevin Smith Kirkwood, Kyle Taylor Parker, Kyle Post, Charlie Sutton, Joey Taranto (Angels), Jennifer Perry (Trish), John Jeffrey Martin (Richard Bailey), Adinah Alexander (Milan Stage Manager), Eugene Barry-Hill, Stephen Berger, Caroline Bowman, Andy Kelso, Eric Leviton, Ellyn Marie Marsh, John Jeffrey Martin, Jennifer Perry, Tory Ross.
Scenic Design: David Rockwell
Costume Design: Gregg Barnes
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Sound Design: John Sshivers
Associate Choreographer: Rusty Mowery
Music Director: Brian Usifer
Music Supervision, Arrangements & Orchestrations: Stephn Oremus
Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 West 45th Street
(212) 239 - 6200
Tickets: $57.00 - $137.00
Performances: Tuesday - Saturday at 8pm, Wednesday and Saturday at 2pm, and Sunday at 3pm (Wednesday matinees begin March 20); Beginning April 9: Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday at 2pm and 8pm, Thursday at 7pm, Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 3pm.
From 03/05/13 Opened 04/04/13
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 03/31/13
Musical Numbers
Act One
    "Price & Son Theme" — Full Company
  • "The Most Beautiful Thing" — Full Company
  • "Take What You Got" — Harry, Charlie & Club Patrons
  • "The Land of Lola" — Lola & Angels
  • "Step One" — Charlie
  • "Sex is in the Heel" — Lola, Pat, George, Angels & Factory Workers
  • "The History of Wrong Guys" — Lauren
  • "I'm Not My Father's Son" — Lola & Charlie
  • "Everybody Say Yeah" — Charlie, Lola, Angels & Factory Workers
Act Two
  • "Price & Son Theme" (reprise) — Full Company
  • "What a Woman Wants" — Lola, Pat, Don, George & the Ladies of the Factory
  • "In This Corner" — Lola, Don, Pat, Trish, Angels & Factory Workers
  • "So Long, Charlie" — Nicola
  • "The Soul of a Man" — Charlie
  • "Hold Me in Your Heart" — Lola
  • "Raise You Up/Just Be" — Full Company
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