News Ticker

Kinky Boots

A Tony-winning musical looks to bank some off-Broadway dollars, too.

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Callum Francis as Lola and Angels in a scene from the revival of “Kinky Boots” now at Stage 42 (Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)

Of all the quirky, class-conscious British flicks about the devastation of deindustrialization that became Broadway-musical extravaganzas, Kinky Boots is the least artistically satisfying despite “yeah, yeahing” its way to box office success, international tours, and six 2013 Tony awards including Best Musical. That the Brooklyn-born pair of Harvey Fierstein, who wrote the show’s book, and Cyndi Lauper, who won her own Tony for its score, apparently only sought inspiration up to their source material’s closing credits seems to have hindered their ability to plumb the brutal effects of globalization and Thatcherism on the lives of their Northampton characters. If you think that’s an unfair expectation for a musical, two words: Billy Elliot.

Several years after vacating its Broadway home, Kinky Boots has settled in to a cozier off-Broadway venue, Stage 42, at a presumed discount for theatergoers, albeit with a much smaller orchestra and actors whose talents far exceed their name recognition (and no mask mandates, which might be a deal breaker for some). Also returning is director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell who gives the resized production the same energy as the original, nurturing a buoyant vibe that, as before, underscores the show’s positive messages about celebrating difference, particularly as it relates to hoary conceptions of masculinity. But, when everything is said and sung, Fierstein and Lauper’s joyously uplifting, but shallow, efforts are only memorable for meaning well. That’s not nothing, especially these days, but the show could have been so much more.

Brianna Stoute as Nicola and Christian Douglas as Charlie in a scene from the revival of “Kinky Boots” now at Stage 42 (Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)

It doesn’t help matters that Kinky Boots is told largely from the perspective of Charlie (Christian Douglas), a to-the-decaying-manor-born cipher who, after his father’s sudden death, reluctantly inherits and agrees to run the old man’s almost-dead-itself shoe factory. Apparently, Charlie’s grand sacrifice, undertaken over the objections of his London-loving girlfriend (Brianna Stoute), stems from an emotional connection to the assembly-line laborers he’s known since childhood. Still, he occasionally does threaten to fire them if they don’t work longer and harder. So, wait, maybe he’s motivated by pride in his family’s industrial legacy. But he was willing to completely abandon that at the beginning of the show. Could it be that Charlie is just a really nice guy? Except, again, there’s his fearmongering harassment of economically vulnerable employees. Also, in the musical’s second part, Fierstein needs Charlie to voice out-of-the blue prejudices to justify the preceding intermission and tee-up an eleven o’clock number. All in all, one never has the sense that Fierstein or Lauper understand or care much about Charlie, other than recognizing that since the character was featured in the movie, he has to be in the musical, too.

The true heartfelt focus of Kinky Boots is Lola (Callum Francis), a drag queen whose club act, backed by an astounding coterie of gender-bending dancers, sparks the fabulous imaginations of Mitchell’s design crew, most notably resulting in Gregg Barnes’ eye-popping costumes and Josh Marquette’s towering wigs, which are stunningly accented by Kenneth Posner’s adoring spotlights. Having played the role on the West End, Broadway and in touring productions, Francis is clearly comfortable in Lola’s fire-red boots with their gravity-defying high heels. Unfortunately, however, while Francis has charisma to spare, it’s in the service of a story that doesn’t earn it.

Christian Douglas as Charlie, Callum Francis as Lola and the Kinky Boots Company  in a scene from the revival of “Kinky Boots” now at Stage 42 (Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)

Even accepting the show’s simple feel-good ambitions, the basic problem is that other than Lola’s fashionable footwear, which Charlie believes he can improve upon to save the factory, there isn’t much more than a business relationship between the two protagonists. Lauper tries to force a deeper connection with the tearjerking duet “I’m Not My Father’s Son.” But in attempting to poignantly bind Lola and Charlie through their patrilineal woes, Lauper jarringly pulls them further apart, given the respective sources of their pain: on the one hand, a father disgusted by his drag-queen son versus, on the other, one who was disappointed because junior didn’t want to sell shoes. It’s not that Lola and Charlie don’t both have daddy issues; but, to equate them is, at best, lazy writing.

That Charlie eventually becomes a hateful knuckle-dragger himself, even ridiculing Lola’s gender identity, nonsensically turns the entire show on its head. It happens just to give Fierstein and Lauper the chance to flip things around again for the big denouement that includes ticking off the heteronormative rom-com box. To be fair, though, the inclusion of a secret admirer for Charlie, his unlucky-in-love underling Lauren (Danielle Hope), elicits the musical’s best solo number, “The History of Wrong Guys,” which Hope delivers with perfect comic yearning. But its clichéd lonely-lady refrain is also indicative of the creative cowardice that doesn’t so much inflict Kinky Boots as drive it.

Sean Steele as Don and the Angels in in a scene from the revival of “Kinky Boots” now at Stage 42 (Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)

As for that title, Fierstein and Lauper assiduously avoid its risqué promise, collectively offering as much kink as a midday cruise excursion to Key West’s Duval Street. Their commitment to the familiar rather than the transgressive may not be a recipe for any genuine thrills, but it does appear to be one for longevity. That’s something to “yeah, yeah” about, I guess.

Kinky Boots (open run)

Stage 42, 422 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit https://www.kinkybootsthemusical.com

Running time: two hours and 25 minutes with one intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.