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Lauper’s ‘Kinky Boots’ Brings Sweet Film to Stage: Review

April 06, 2013

'Kinky Boots'

Kyle Taylor Parker, Charlie Sutton, Joey Taranto, Stark Sands, Billy Porter, Kelvin Smith Kirkwood, Paul Canaan and Kyle Post in "Kinky Boots." The show marks the Broadway songwriting debut of Cyndi Lauper. Photographer: Matthew Murphy/O and M Co. via Bloomberg

In “Kinky Boots,” Billy Porter flaunts a pair of thigh-high, shiv-heeled cherry red sparkling dazzlers like sex weapons.

With this infectiously amiable show, Cyndi Lauper makes her Broadway debut as composer and lyricist. The indomitable Harvey Fierstein returns as book writer with his latest dispatch from the wacky but world-weary drag-queen demimonde.

Don’t run for the exit just because I tell you the show has a great heart and charm, which sounds like what the road to hell is paved with.

“Kinky Boots” has flash and sparkle, some great dancing from director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell and a, well, fabulous star-turn by Porter as a female impersonator who discovers a more mainstream, not to mention profitable, calling.

Not unlike Harvey Fierstein himself, I might add. After all, he started out on Broadway as the bunny-slippered hero of “Torch Song Trilogy” before going on to write the book for “La Cage aux Folles” and other shows, including the current smash, “Newsies.”

Porter plays Lola, whom we first meet on a dark London street, in costume and pursued by thugs. When the very straight Charlie Price (Stark Sands) intervenes, he is unintentionally rewarded with a left hook thrown by the boot-wielding Lola.

True Love

Charlie soon learns that Lola is a he with no particular need for a knight in shining armor. Indeed, it’s Charlie who needs help, having just inherited his family’s shoe factory. Turning out boring brogues and wingtips no one wants to buy, Price & Son is on the verge of bankruptcy.

Performing in boots made for women is Lola’s curse. Inspired, Charlie, with Lola’s help and artistic eye, turns the staid company into purveyor of footwear to a niche market. Along the way, Charlie loses his striver fiancee and finds true love with a woman he tried to fire.

David Rockwell’s setting, a stage-filling factory cathedral shadowed in grime, is lit with almost comical pallor by Kenneth Posner. When Lola’s “angels” arrive, the factory workers are scandalized until, of course, they’re won over. Gregg Barnes clearly had a great time creating eye-popping, Technicolor costumes for the busty, brawny dancers and drab mufti for the factory workers.

Sexy Heel

Based on the genial 2005 film of the same name, “Kinky Boots” is feel-good theater, a cut above similar recent shows like “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and “Sister Act.” Lauper’s songs are smart and funny, if not always memorable, though Porter kills in “Sex is in the Heel,” a number that pretty much sums up the show.

The other standouts are Annaleigh Ashford as the woman who wins Charlie’s heart, and Daniel Stewart Sherman as the necessary redneck. As Charlie, Sands is charmless; I never felt the depth of connection to Lola that would have lifted the enterprise to a higher level.

And I wish the 10 minutes of platitudes that conclude the show had been dropped. But for better and worse, high sentiment is Fierstein’s stock in trade and the very likable “Kinky Boots” struck me as his most personal show.

At the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 W. 45th St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: ***1/2

(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include movies and New York Weekend.

To contact the writer of this column: Jeremy Gerard in New York at jgerard2@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.


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