Thursday, February 26, 2015

Kick Up Your Heels

It is difficult to explain what makes the musical Kinky Boots so much fun. The story follows a man who inherits his father’s shoe factory and, in a last ditch effort to save the business, changes production from sensible men’s shoes to that of high heeled shoes designed for drag queens.  Woven within it is a message of tolerance and acceptance that is unfortunately still very relevant. That description may not sound like the makings of a hit musical, but in this case the show’s six Tony Awards, including the one for Best Musical, don’t lie. The songs are fantastic, the book is nicely balanced, and the cast will leave you wanting more.

Cyndi Lauper’s original songs place the show somewhere between a traditional and a jukebox musical. Lauper struck a nice balance between catchy songs that can stand alone while not jeopardizing structure or chopping up the show with song breaks that bring the story to a halt. “The History of Wrong Guys” has a retro pop vibe while “Not My Father’s Son” is a gentle serenade to dreams, expectations and the internal battles that erupt when those dreams don’t align with reality. Kinky Boots features one of the most fun finales seen on stage in quite some time. The final number, “Raise You Up/Just Be” is an anthem to self-acceptance that is so upbeat and positive that, on this night, it brought the audience to their feet, clapping and dancing with joy.

Harvey Fierstein, a Broadway veteran both as an actor and book writer, turned in another hit. In adapting the film of the same name for the stage, Fierstein has once again proven that he is much more than Robin Williams' gay brother in Mrs. Doubtfire, he is a Broadway tour de force with a knack for bringing humanity to all manner of characters. Rife with one-liners that keep the tone from veering into preachy territory, Fierstein expertly handled the juxtaposition of teaching tolerance in a shoe factory with a drag queen as educator.

Photo: Matthew Murphy
The current national tour cast is absolutely spectacular. At the performance I attended, the cast included Darius Harper (Lola), Steven Booth (Charlie) and Lindsay Nicole Chambers (Lauren). Booth was charming and likable as Charlie, a man who has not yet found his way in life. Chambers, who gets to deliver some of the funniest lines in the show, displayed excellent comedic timing and a strong voice. And as Lola, a man seemingly more confident than Charlie but who identifies with the relationship Charlie had with his father, Harper embodied the role so well that it’s hard to imagine any other actor in the role. In his portrayal, Harper did not cross the line that would have been easy to cross, that is, to turn Lola into a caricature. Harper imbues Lola with a spirit that will ring true to audiences of all kinds.

I saw the show a few weeks ago and it has stuck with me, so much so that I was compelled to implore you to see the show if you get a chance. I make no guarantees, but if you like upbeat, positive storylines mixed with catchy tunes then Kinky Boots will suit you like a well-fitting pair of heels.

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