Kinky Boots – It’s Not Just Girls Who Want To Have Fun

Kinky Boots - It's Not Just Girls Who Want To Have FunIt is rare that the relatively new phenomenon of what simplistic critics call a “crowd-pleasing” musical should be legitimately good, and yet Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein’s “Kinky Boots” is just such a show. From the very beginning of this high-powered show, the audience is a feral beast that cannot be restrained in its manic applause. This is mostly testament to Lauper’s score, which is stellar in places if slightly unprofessional in others, but also to the incomparable performances of the two male leads, Stark Sands and Billy Porter.

Based on the 2005 film, “Boots” concerns Charlie Price (Sands), the heir to a Northampton shoe factory who doesn’t want it, and his eventual conversion, with the help of Lola (Porter) a drag queen with a heart of gold (oh boy), of said factory to an assembly line for sturdy fetish footwear for transvestites, or, as Lola calls them, “two and a half feet of irresistible, tubular, sex.”

The story, by comparison to most of the invigorating score, is rather formulaic—and by extension, so is Mr. Fierstein’s book. Here is the at first reluctant milquetoast who learns to try new things and be open to new ideas (Price), here is the homosexual minority who opens everyone’s mind with his sassy approach to life (Lola), here is the resident homophobe whose mind must be changed by force (Don, a factory worker, played by Daniel Stewart Sherman). (Have you ever noticed that in any musical featuring only one gay character, either only one person is homophobic or everyone is?) Price and Lola are resentful of their fathers (big surprise), as we are ploddingly informed in “Not My Father’s Son,” Ms. Lauper’s worst number and the plot’s weakest point. All the boxes are checked. This is why, in some places, “Boots” can seem uninteresting.

But fear not. In practically every other number featuring Lola, the musical becomes a masterpiece. Billy Porter, who won the Tony for Best Actor for this performance, is unbelievably talented. Perhaps his talent is more on display than that of his cast-mates because Ms. Lauper knows how to write for Lola’s personality. His (her?) numbers, like the simple but fantastically well-written “Land of Lola,” the slinky tango “What a Woman Wants,” and the brash “In this Corner,” are the best in the show because Ms. Lauper is not trying to write for a story. In other numbers, like “Step One,” in which Price lays out his plan for the factory, her lyrics don’t match up, because she’s unfamiliar with this format. Ms. Lauper’s best work comes when she focuses on the pop-driven music that has made her a success. These numbers come along on one of two occasions. One: whenever Lola is on the stage, and two: whenever a number performed by the full cast captures the full exuberance always possible in Ms. Lauper’s work, especially in the two act-enders, “Everybody Say Yeah” and “Raise You Up.”

Mr. Sands is a good center around which the story can orbit, but we are expected to presume relationships with his coworkers of which we are never adequately made aware. Beyond that, things happen too suddenly to Charlie Price -— he is adamantly against running the factory, then for it, then against the kinky boots, then for them, then friendly to Lola, then utterly disdainful of his (her?) sexual identity. Mr. Sands does a good job, however, in juggling these conflicting emotions, and is nearly as versatile a performer as his co-star Mr. Porter.

All in all, “Kinky Boots” is worth seeing for some of the better numbers, even if some of the worse numbers are worth forgetting.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. This, ah, “review” isn’t very well written. With this kind of prose on offer, Baristanet will never, ever help replace the Star-Ledger.

    Just read the last paragraph above. It’s awful . Does anyone ever actually EDIT Baristanet posts? (I long ago gave up on the idea of fact-checking on this site.)

  2. Both Mr. Fierstein’s book and Ms. Lauper’s music is mediocre at best (and I love Mr. Fierstein). The dance numbers are predictable, and many are just terrible. The singing is hit or miss. The only reason to see this show is Billy Porter (who is fabulous). Yes, I’m a huge theater snob (I see pretty much everything in NYC and London, and often in Chicago), but even I like silly theater sometimes. But when Mr. Porter wasn’t on the stage I was bored senseless.

    And for the record, Cathar is right — this site needs a real editor. It’s pretty much unreadable these days (I have all but given up on it). This review is a combination of bad grammar, cliches, non-sensical observations and wrong information (the plot was taken from the very popular movie of the same name. There is very little “new” in this play). It’s an insult to print such a badly edited review (I’m sure the writer is very nice but he needs editing!). In a town full of journalists, you’d think that someone would be willing to step in and try to improve this site.

  3. After googling James Feinberg, I understand that he just completed his freshman year at MHS. I admire the fact that he is interested in theater reviewing. However, Baristanet.com let him down by not making sure that his review was properly edited (or even made sense).

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