'Kinky Boots': Theater Review

Matthew Murphy
Despite its shortcomings, the overrated Tony winner is undeniable fun

Strutting on the Pantages stage through Nov. 30, an all-new national tour cast takes on Harvey Fierstein's haphazard book and Cyndi Lauper's uplifting songs

The factory town of Northampton, about 67 miles outside London, prides itself on hard work and traditional values. In this home to numerous shoemaking facilities, business went bust for many, prompting one company in 1993, W.J. Brooks, Ltd., maker of fine leather brogans, to get a brand new bag: the boot. But not just any boot, red boots. "Red is for sex!" purrs Lola, the stereotypical yet irresistible drag queen at the center of Kinky Boots, a musical version of real-life events at Hollywood's Pantages Theatre.

Lola represents a second chance for Charlie Price, who has taken over the family shoe business from his deceased father just in time to oversee its demise. Opportunity knocks when Charlie rescues (sort of) Lola from a group of thugs and learns she has a niche to fill: kinky boots, footwear for drag queens. In real life it was a random call that got the factory on the road to recovery with their new line, Divine Footwear for men, but hell, Kinky Boots sounds like a lot more fun, and that's what composer Cyndi Lauper just wants to have. Winner of six Tony Awards, including best musical and original score for Lauper in her Broadway debut, Kinky Boots in fact is loads of fun, but it's also a touch overrated.

As in his work on La Cage aux Folles, Newsies and A Catered AffairHarvey Fierstein bases his book on a movie, in this case the Brit film of the same name, which came out in 2005 but feels like a story from the '80s. That might be why Lauper, a pop star who emerged during that era, was a shrewd choice as composer. Fierstein's book offers the predictable tale of a pair of misfit partners who overcome great odds to win the day, a simple story that is hardly helped by its trite and obvious treatment of themes of tolerance and self-acceptance. Lauper delivers a mixed bag of tunes, excelling in her upbeat songs like "Sex is in the Heel," and the first act climax, "Everybody Say Yeah." These are precisely the kind of rousing numbers audiences adore, and when done right, as they are here, they are irrepressible.

Read more 'Kinky Boots': Broadway Review

As Charlie, Steven Booth (Glory Days, Avenue Q) struggles with a British accent, (as does most of the cast), at times slipping into an unfortunate Paul McCartney-like Liverpudlian brogue. He is a bit mushy at first but earns the audience's empathy in good time, playing a pale Yin to the Yang of Lola (Kyle Taylor Parker). Parker played one of the Angels (Lola's drag cohorts) on Broadway while understudying Lola. But the road show is his place to shine and shine he does, sort of. There's something hesitant about his performance, and if there's one thing drag queens are not known for its restraint. Parker nonetheless anchors the play ably enough, and though he never seems to own the role, he has a strong voice and nails his second act solo, "Hold Me in Your Heart."

Lindsay Nicole Chambers, as Lauren, the factory gal with a crush on the boss, offers a level of charm perfectly matched with Lauper's lyrics in her solo, "The History of Wrong Guys." In a role that was expanded during Chicago tryouts, she is impossible not to root for as she overtakes Charlie’s fiancé Nicola (Grace Stockdale) in the contest for his affection.

Fierstein didn’t originally conceive his adaptation as a musical, but it's a good thing he finally came around to the idea. The sincerity and yearning in Lauper's lyrics infuse the characters with emotional veracity, as in Charlie's duet with Lola, "Not My Father’s Son," where they commiserate over misunderstandings with their fathers. Lauper’s roster of pop tunes are underscored with a retro '80s synth bed, or in songs by Lola and her Angels, a funky '70s beat. Beginning the second act, an ensemble number between men and women on the factory floor, "What a Woman Wants," delightfully illuminates misperceptions between the sexes. But "Soul of a Man" has echoes of the Procul Harum classic, "Whiter Shade of Pale," based loosely on Bach's "Air on a G String" – a musical mind-bender that points out the limits of Lauper’s originality.

Read more ANALYSIS: 'Kinky Boots' Kicks Aside Tony Awards Competition

Production designer David Rockwell presents a generous gift to director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell with a levitated platform at center stage that serves as Charlie's office above the factory floor. It allows Mitchell to move from intimate to ensemble scenes without having to lift much scenery, and he makes expert use of the space, which seldom seems cluttered, even when filled with factory workers and drag queens.

In the end, when Charlie and Lola and the crew make their stand at the big show in Milan, well, you can guess what happens. But Kinky Boots isn't about keeping you guessing, it's about big goofy fun. That's the primary target the creative team has set for themselves and that’s what they achieve. And unless you have a problem with fun, that's not such a bad thing.

Cast: Kyle Taylor Parker, Steven Booth, Lindsay Nicole Chambers, Joe Coots, Grace Stockdale, Craig Waletzko, Damien Brett, Stephen Carrasco, Lauren Nicole Chapman, Amelia Cormack, Troi Gaines, J. Harrison Ghee, Blair Goldberg, Darius Harper, Andrew Theo Johnson, Crystal Kellogg, Jeffrey Kishinevskiy, Jeff Kuhr, Ross Lekites, Patty Lohr, Mike Longo, Tommy Martinez, David McDonald, Nick McGough, Bonnie Milligan, Anthony Picarello, Horace V. Rogers, Ricky Schroeder, Anne Tolpegin, Juan Torres-Falcon, Hernando Umana, Sam Zeller

Director-choreographer: Jerry Mitchell

Book: Harvey Fierstein

Music and lyrics: Cyndi Lauper

Set designer: David Rockwell

Costume designer: Gregg Barnes

Lighting designer: Kenneth Posner

Sound designer: John Shivers

Music director: Adam Souza

Presented by Daryl Roth, Hal Luftig, James L. Nederlander, Terry Allen Kramer, Independent Presenters Network, CJ E&M, Jayne Baron Sherman, Just For Laughs Theatricals/Judith Ann Abrams, Yasuhiro Kawana, Jane Berger, Allen S. Gordon & Adam S. Gordon, Ken Davenport, Hunter Arnold, Lucy & Phil Suarez, Bryan Bantry, Ron Fierstein & Dorsey Regal, Jim Kierstead/Gregory Rae, BB Group/Christina Papagjika, Miacheal DeSantis/Patrick Baugh, Brian Smith/Tom & Connie Walsh, Warren Trepp and Jujamcyn Theatres

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