Strut your stuff in ‘Kinky Boots’

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How it’s New York: Kinky Boots has music by rocker Cyndi Lauper, who is from New York, and book by Harvey Fierstein, who is from Brooklyn.
Billy Porter and The Angels (L-R: Kyle Post, Kevin Smith Kirkwood, Joey Taranto, and Paul Canaan). (c)Matthew Murphy

Billy Porter and The Angels (L-R: Kyle Post, Kevin Smith Kirkwood, Joey Taranto, and Paul Canaan). (c)Matthew Murphy

And NYC, of course, has its share of drag queens.
How it’s Irish: It’s set in Northern England, and many an Irish traddie hails from there.

An earlier version of this review was first published in Irish Examiner USA, Tuesday, May 30, 2013.

You might think that nothing beats stocking feet for dancing.

What about thigh-high red stilletto boots? “Kinky Boots,” the Broadway musical, makes a good case for them.

The Broadway musical has a score by ’80s rocker Cyndi Lauper, a book by gay icon and theatrical star Harvey Fierstein. The story is based on the 2005 movie “Kinky Boots,” and by the end, you might be convinced that a good pair of stilettos will change your life. Even if you’re a man.

“Kinky Boots” tells the story of Charlie Price (Stark Sands) who inherits Price & Sons shoes when his dad dies suddenly. His fiancée, Nicola (Celina Carvajal), wants him to hurry up and close the place so they can settle in to a new life in London. The factory could make good condos. So far, it’s all a little like “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George Bailey never intended to run the Bailey Building & Loan, either, but ended up doing it when his dad died, because he couldn’t stand the alternative.

Charlie doesn’t want to put people out of work. It seems like there’s going to be no alternative, until he meets Lola (Billy Porter), a drag queen in the process of being mugged. Turns out, nobody makes women’s shoes for men: stilettos that can bear the weight of a man without breaking.

Billy Porter, Daniel Stewart Sherman, and Marcus Neville (right). (c)Matthew Murphy

Billy Porter, Daniel Stewart Sherman, and Marcus Neville (right). (c)Matthew Murphy

You can probably guess where the show is going: a few false starts, some “be true to yourself” stuff for both Charlie and Lola, and oh heck for everybody else too. Lola moves to Northamptonshire – where he actually originally is from – to supervise production. A thuggish factory worker, Don (Daniel Stewart Sherman, who also delivers a hilariously threatening “turn off your cell phones” warning at the top of the show), learns that brute strength doesn’t make the man. A lovable, spunky factory forewoman, Lauren (Annaleigh Ashford), demonstrates a simpatico with Charlie.

The predictability of the story, though, is part of its charm. It’s a gently offbeat Cinderella story, with role of the princess taken by the factory itself, with the glass slipper transformed into a thigh-high red boot with stiletto heels.

Jerry Mitchell directs and choreographs with aplomb, and high kicks from the drag queens, the Angels, get applause. I also love that many of the factory workers convincingly look middle-aged, and the Northern English accents sound convincing too. Lauper’s score sparkles like the glittery shoes we see. New rock songs in a rock musical are terrifically risky; so often they just drag the story down or make you think of other, better songs. Not so here.

“Step One,” Charlie’s song about making the shoes, has a terrific happy drive to it, and “Sex Is in the Heel,” sung by Lola and ensemble, gets toes tapping (sorry, just had to get that in somewhere). There are gorgeous ballads too, including “Hold Me in Your Heart.” And the final number, “Raise You Up/Just Be” get the audience on its feet.

“Kinky Boots” has garnered 13 Tony nominations, including the nom for Best Musical. Lauper and Fierstein both got nods.

Stark Sands, Annaleigh Ashford, and Billy Porter. (c)Matthew Murphy

Stark Sands, Annaleigh Ashford, and Billy Porter. (c)Matthew Murphy

Porter in the flashy role of Lola has one too. He’s funny, a little tender, and overall delicious. Sands as Charlie is one of Porter’s competitors, and his Charlie sings dreamily and shows both vulnerability and strength. Ashford as Lauren’s also been nominated as featured actress; Mitchell has been nominated, too. Set Designer David Rockwell got a nom for his multi-layered factory and shifting set.

Apart from the fun of the fish out of water of straitlaced Charlie partnering with free-spirited Lola, there’s something truly uplifting about seeing a family business triumph.

A happy ending for factory workers in this age of outsourcing is a happy ending indeed.

“Kinky Boots” is one musical you’ll want to try on.

 

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Copyright 2013 New York Irish Arts