Does any woman not love shoes? Does any man not love kinky shoes on a woman -- or on the right man? Who could not resist a pair of sparkling red, over-the-knee, sensational boots? Stiletto heels, of course, because as Lola (Billy Porter) says in Kinky Boots, “Sex is in the heel.”
Kinky Boots, the infectious new musical at the Al Hirschfeld Theater, sounds like flamboyance and fluff, and there is plenty of that, but there’s also more thanks to two major talents. Four-time Tony Award winner, Harvey Fierstein (La Cage aux Folles), bolsters the flash with a message of persistence and self-acceptance.
Rock star Cyndi Lauper makes her Broadway debut as composer and lyricist and provides just the right, high-energy score to reflect the values while keeping the beat rocking and the cast dancing. With Fierstein and Lauper and director/choreographer, Jerry Mitchell, at the helm, you can’t help but kick up your heels at Kinky Boots.
Fierstein adapted the musical from the lackluster 2005 British film of the same name and gives it Broadway-style glamour and glitz. This is the story of a Northampton sensible-shoe manufacturer’s son, Charlie Price (Stark Sands) whose father dies suddenly, leaving Charlie to head the factory which is out of money and its product out of date. Charlie is now responsible for a hard-working group of long-time employees. But thanks to a London drag queen, Lola, and her broken stiletto heel, Charlie finds a possible solution. Lola advises, “You’re going to have to start manufacturing sex. Two and a half feet of irresistible tubular sex” and Charlie realizes that this is his niche market, designing well-made, dazzling but durable footwear for the transvestite market. He hires Lola as designer, and together they motivate the workers to create a line for an important fashion shoe in Milan.
Does he find success? Only after overcoming some obstacles. Charlie is frustrated with his self-absorbed fiancée, Nicola (Celina Carvajal), and takes it out on his employees before they eventually call it splitsville. Charlie learns to appreciate the know-how of his number-one assistant, Lauren (Annaleigh Ashford). Lola, not surprisingly, has a run-in with the macho factory workers, and both Charlie and Lola have had to contend with their fathers’ expectations and disappointments. However, it is not giving anything away to disclose that despite the familiar squabbles and disappointments, labor troubles, love affairs and loneliness, the company’s kinky boots collection eventually saves the day, not only for Charlie and his shoe business but securing his and Lola’s values.
Lauper’s songs move the story forward, mixing rhythmic dances and heartfelt ballads that reflect the two men as they move toward the goal. Both Charlie and Lola have personal affirmation anthems in Act 2. “The Soul of a Man” is a strong statement for Charlie, and the passionate “Hold Me in Your Heart” is a stunner by Lola. Together they deliver “I’m Not My Father’s Son.” Ashford threatens to steal the show with Lauren’s high-octane delivery of the story of her love life, "The History of Wrong Guys." Interestingly, her vocals show an uncanny resemblance to Lauper back in the day. Also in the cast of 32 is chunky Daniel Stewart Sherman, convincing as a redneck.
Sands is persuasive as Charlie, caring and dedicated yet someone who can kick it up audaciously in energetic numbers like “Everybody Say Yeah” ending Act I and the driving finale, “Raise You Up/Just Be.” It is Billy Porter’s Lola, however, who owns the stage whenever she struts in, her generous wigs in place, a voice as husky as Fierstein’s and a stare that kills. She and her chorus girls, the “Angels” (Paul Canaan, Kevin Smith Kirkwood, Kyle Taylor Parker, Kyle Post, Charlie Sutton, Joey Taranto), wear razzle-dazzle costumes to die for by Gregg Barnes and boots by LaDuca and T. O. Dey. Mitchell’s imaginative choreography shows that these boots were made for more than just walking as factory workers tear up the stage wearing stilettos, and a fabulous number is performed on conveyer belts.
The set by David Rockwell is a factory that transforms easily with a few quick into a shabby nightclub, a hotel room, or a runway in Milan.
So far this season, for a good time, all other musicals are kicked aside by Kinky Boots.