Kinky Boots

 

Book by Harvey Fierstein

Music & Lyrics by Cyndi Lauper

Directed and Choreographed  by Jerry Mitchell

Produced by Broadway in Chicago

At the Bank of America Theatre, Chicago

World Premiere pre-Broadway Kinky Boots is a fun yet troubled musical

I must admit that the title “Kinky Boots” gave me the same feeling as did “Urinetown” – a negative feeling. But, to its credit, Kinky Boots is a sweet, almost cartoonist,  Broadway musical based on the punk British film of the same name.  Full disclosure requires me to state that I am not a fan of Broadway pop rock tunes or Broadway rock singing, and, I loathe disco with a passion. So Cyndi Lauper’s score filled with pop/rock anthems, R & B ballads and bouncy disco tunes for the drag queens left me cold. But, I must say, that the opening night audience cheered these tunes. I guess I’m too much of a traditionalist?

Kinky Boots comes off as a cliche-ridden story that reminds one of La Cage Aux Folles and Hairspray with hints of  British sociopolitical elements, like  Billy Elliot. The story revolves around Charlie Price ( the golden boy empathetic Stark Sands) who is forced to save his family’s shoe manufacturing business in Northern England following the death of his father.  Facing bankruptcy, Charlie, after an encounter with Lola, a drag queen in London, realizes that the factory needs a new niche to survive. Why not make shoes, boots actually with spiked heals, that can support a man’s weight and still look glamorous? He enlist Lola (the charismatic Billy Porter) to design the kinky boots. The goal here is for Charlie to save the factory and the jobs he feels obliged to save while he , and Lola, each can get out from under their father’s shadows.

There several holes in Harvey Fierstein’s book including the lackluster unconcern about their jobs by the factory workers and Charlie’s second act meltdown where he becomes a nasty, bigoted taskmaster from hell. The show moves from sweetness to melodrama that includes a preposterous boxing match between the resident homophobic worker and Lola. The message of acceptance and tolerance seems force-feed and somewhat sentimental. With a talented writer like Harvey Fierstein, those problems can be resolved before Broadway. His best writing comes from those stinging zingers he has Lola expound.

For those who like disco tunes and drag queens, the showstoppers are exhilarating and bouncy; the pop anthems are mostly formulaic pastiche especially the early “The Most Beautiful Thing” ode to shoes! Act Two contains two soul searching tunes: “The Soul of A Man,” and “Hold Me in Your Heart” that demonstrate Cyndi Lauper’s composing talent.

These is fine energy here, yet the choreography is mostly arm-waving uneventful movement. The most creative was the number featuring movement on a conveyer belt. The costumes, especially the very high vividly colored boots, and the outlandish drag costumes worked fine.

This light weight Broadway musical needs second act work, epically motivation for Charlie’s meltdown. The boxing scene needs to be re-thought to be believable. I’d also want to see more at stake for why Charlie feels so dedicated to the workers even though they don’t seem overly concerned for their jobs. Less by-the-numbers plotting and more credible motivations would serve the piece well. Only Lola is a fully developed character worthy of our respect and empathy. Billy Porter is terrific here and Stark Sands is also effective.

Once the creatives cut, revise, and tighten things, Kinky Boots will emerge as another sweet commercial hit. Art it is not but then again sometimes we just want to have a good time at a show. For pop/rock disco drag queen fans Kinky Boots fits just fine.

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: October 17, 2012

For more info checkout the Kinky Boots page at theatreinchicago.com

At the Bank of America Theatre, 18 W.Monroe, Chicago, IL, www.broadwayinchicago.com, tickets $33 – $100, Tuesdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays at 2 & 7:30 pm, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 & 7;30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 40  minutes with intermission, through November 4, 2012