Heel Thyself: ''Kinky Boots''

Cyndi Lauper's original songs go beyond the Broadway box in the new Tony-nominated musical

The new Broadway musical Kinky Boots is hands down this year’s gayest — or ”most fabulous,” to go with Entertainment Weekly‘s coded description. You could even think of it as an update on La Cage Aux Folles, with a few heaping sprinkles of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert‘s good cheer and confetti, and even a nod to the British working-class milieu of previous movie musical adaptations Billy Elliot and The Full Monty.

In other words, it all but dares you to try and resist it.

Kinky Boots: The Musical

Kinky Boots: The Musical

But no matter how weary and wizened you might be, resistance to Kinky Boots isn’t just futile, it’s ill advised. Because what Harvey Fierstein, the Broadway book veteran, has managed to coax out of Cyndi Lauper, the Broadway tunesmith newbie — with direction by Jerry Mitchell — is worth seeing and hearing and celebrating. Even Tony agrees: The show just rounded up a whopping 13 Tony nominations, more than any other show this season, including all the major categories. You may have seen this story, essentially, many times before, but you haven’t heard original songs quite like this on the Great White Way. We’re talking contemporary pop-rock, disco and especially club beats. I told you it was gay.

The story, based on a small 2005 British film, centers on a man, Charlie Price (Stark Sands), tasked with running the floundering family shoe factory after his father passes away. Initially Price doesn’t want the job, since the Podunk business is beyond down at its heels; the shoes just aren’t selling. He eventually comes around, especially after he meets Lola (Billy Porter) in London. Lola is a vivacious, muscular, drag-queen showgirl who can’t find a good pair of heels to withstand her force of gravity. You can see where this is going, right? Lola puts her heart and soul into designing new sturdy stilettos, and, after some predictable tiffs and turf battles, as well as literally coming to blows in a boxing ring, she becomes the hero.

At its core, the secondary tale of a drag-queen showman who finds more success behind the scenes is Fierstein’s real life story brought to stage. As written, Lola would certainly fit Fierstein perfectly, should he ever decide to take on the role. Lola is nearly as non-threatening and sexless a character as Fierstein’s Tony-winning turn as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray. Though in some novel stunt casting, Lauper could also play the part. You can just hear Lauper belting Lola’s big numbers, with the 13-piece house orchestra offering the kind of support the pop star is used to having in concert: The band is led by two keyboardists, and the drummer is the first main instrumentalist listed in the credits, followed by a bassist and two guitarists.

KINKY BOOTS
starstarstarstar 1/2
Al Hirschfeld Theatre
302 West 45th St.
New York
$77 to $142
212-239-6200
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It’s the rock orientation that makes Kinky Boots so electrifying and powerful. There are five towering anthems spread out throughout the show and the songs do a slightly better job than the script of conveying the characters’ personalities and motivations. The leads all seem to take more relish in singing and dancing (to Mitchell’s refreshing choreography) than simply telling their stories. They all knock you out in their own way. Sands, probably heretofore best known for playing the gay boy in Charles Busch’s camp classic Die Mommie Die!, is the irresistibly charming straight everyman, just trying to do right and be happy. Even more remarkable is Porter, who manages to pull off quite the feat, camping it up as the show’s drag star without over-dramatizing or over-sentimentalizing the role. In Porter’s hands and gams, Lola is both larger than life and down to earth — a living, breathing human being. Every bit as stunning is Annaleigh Ashford, who may remind you of Lauper in her portrayal of the supporting character Lauren. In particular, Ashford sings ”The History of Wrong Guys,” an incredibly modern and hilarious number that gives expression to the internal struggle of a smart, self-aware woman trying in vain to fight falling head over heels for a man, in this case her boss Charlie.

As you would hope, given the show’s title, costume designer Gregg Barnes also deserves props for his truly fabulous red lace-up boots, which you just know drag queens are already clamoring for. Ultimately, however, it’s the music that struts with the most vigor. These boots, you could say, were made for singing.

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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