"Kinky Boots" (Broadway in Chicago): A Heel of a Good Time

"Kinky Boots" (Broadway in Chicago):  A Heel of a Good Time

Reviewed by Richard Malone

"Kinky Boots", which is in it's pre-Broadway run in Chicago, is a smash!  Or maybe it's more like "Smash".  There are some fun musical numbers, characters to root for, maybe a character we could see less of, and with a little tweaking, it could be great!.  Inspired by the 2005 movie of the same name and mixing elements of "Billy Elliot", "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" and Science Channel's "How It's Made", "Kinky Boots" is a message musical about the power of acceptance in fueling innovation and personal and economic transformation.

Charlie (Stark Sands), leaves the family shoe factory in Northern England for London to pursue a career in real estate marketing with his career-driven girlfriend.  One night, he crosses paths with and tries to defend a tough drag queen named Lola (Billy Porter), who is being harassed by a couple of thugs but can defend herself.   Lola is really Simon, who, like Charlie, grew up with the burden of having dreams at odds with his father's. When Charlies father passes away, he leaves London to take charge of the shoe factory and learns it has been in financial trouble for some time.  There is no longer demand for the high quality men's shoes they have been making for generations.  Charlie decides to close the place down, but Lauren, an employee who develops a crush on Charlie, refuses to take a pink slip and tells him he has to find a need in the market and change the product to fill it.  In full-on co-dependent mode, Charlie draws inspiration from a conversation he had with Lola where she complained how women's shoes don't stand up well to a man's weight.  Charlie brings Lola on board to help design high-quality boots for the drag queen market in time for the upcoming Milan fashion show.  The factory is saved.  (We hope.)  Hooray!

 

Cyndi Lauper wrote the music and lyrics and Harvey Fierstein wrote the book for "Kinky Boots", and both gave their biggest gems (numbers and one-liners) to Billy Porter who is the standout in this show.  Featuring some amazing stunt drag choreography by Jerry Mitchell, Porter really brings the audience on board with "The Sex is in the Heel" midway through Act 1 and later puts the factory bully in his place with the pseudo-tango "What a Woman Wants".   Porter mesmerizes with the eleven o'clock number "Hold Me In Your Heart", in which he channels the late Whitney Houston. Stark Sands is likeable enough as Charlie, but his numbers were eclipsed by Porter's, and his big Act 2 moment was the overwrought "The Soul of a Man".  The delightfully comic Annaleigh Ashford, as Lauren, shines in "The History of Wrong Guys", which could become a cabaret staple.  I wish there were more development of her role as Charlie's new love interest and an earlier exit from the story of Nicola (Celina Cavajal) who is Charlie's girlfriend #1.  .  Nicola gets her own ballad in Act 2, but we are already over her by that point.

 

While I'm sure the show will more charges before it bows on Broadway next spring, it is definitely worth seeing in its current state.  It's a fun-time, feel good show and will have you on your feet at the end---and not just to leave the theatre.

At Bank of America Theatre, Chicago through November 4, 2012

Book by Harvey Fierstein

Music & Lyrics by Cyndi Lauper

Direction & Choreography by Jerry Mitchell

(Photo Credit:  Gavin Bond)  Jerry Mitchell (L), Harvey Fierstein (M), Cyndi Lauper (R)

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