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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Al Hirschfeld


  Ph: Matthew Murphy

Cobbled together from parts of La Cage Aux Folles, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and Hairspray, Kinky Boots is like 100 shows you’ve seen before –but there are a few reasons to make it number 101. Adapted from a 2005 British dramedy that plays like a reboot of The Full Monty, with the lumpenproletariat again liberated by sexual expression, the show hits all the expected feel-good notes of acceptance and tolerance. When, however, Harvey Fierstein is writing the book, Cyndi Lauper is composing the music and lyrics, and Jerry Mitchell is directing, you hoof it to the Hirschfeld to see what’s new on the movies-into-musicals front.
Short answer: not much. There’s a formula to this type of show, and Kinky Boots walks the walk. Step 1: Brighten the bleaker atmosphere of the film, by, for example, having David Rockwell create a shoe factory set that impresses rather than intimidates. Step 2: Go for broad, cheerful strokes, so that the grim specters of unemployment and prejudice can be erased by a song and dance that happen, say, on a conveyor belt. Step 3: It’s called Kinky Boots, so for the final number get as much of your cast as possible in the biggest, kinkiest boots that costume designer Gregg Barnes can design. There is one surprise, in that the material hasn’t been Americanized, as it was when The Full Monty stripped down for Broadway, so it’s kind of like seeing a West End show that originated in New York.
Another surprise is that the generic packaging doesn’t obscure some fancy footwork. Lauper laces Fierstein’s book, sassy, bitchy, and heartfelt, with a variety of tunes, from the required empowerment anthems (“Everybody Say Yeah,” “Raise You Up”) to more reflective songs like “The Soul of a Man.” An underrated talent, Lauper still wants to have fun, while displaying the broader palette that fans who have stood by her since her 80s heyday have always known her to have. Mitchell, not one to waste a good number, stages the production inventively. “In This Corner,” imagined as a slo-mo boxing match between two very different opponents, nearly trumps the conveyor belt.
Coming to blows, and then to understanding, is at the heart of Kinky Boots. Charlie (Stark Sands), the son of a failing shoe magnate, wants to stand on his own two feet and relocate to London, but feels obliged to stick it out in plebian Northampton when his father goes toes up. Lacking inspiration, the business is threatened, until a chance encounter with Lola (Billy Porter), a drag queen, leads him to reorient the company toward extravagant footwear for transvestites. Needless to say the switch to “tubular sex” doesn’t sit well with the conservative employees, nor does brassy Lola, who is entrusted to design the product. The business of adjusting attitudes deepens the characters of Charlie and Lola, who have blind spots of their own, and the appealing Sands and the spectacular Porter keep Kinky Boots from tottering into cliché. Giving the musical additional sole: Annaleigh Ashford as Lauren, Charlie’s factory girl. Her Lauper-esque rendering of the funny “History of Wrong Men” had the audience on their feet, and this time the pun’s unintended.


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