There’s a curious and creative collaboration on display at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, where Kinky Boots, with book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by Cindy Lauper, opened on Thursday night. It’s based on the 2005 movie about a family-owned English shoe factory on the brink of closing down which decides in desperation to try manufacturing high fashion boots for a niche market – cross-dressing men!
Kinky Boots is cut from the same cloth as Billy Elliott and The Full Monty – 2 other feel-good working class movies set in the north of England which got turned into musicals. It’s old-fashioned and formulaic, yet heartfelt and fun. And like those boots, it’s perfectly constructed.
It stars Stark Sands as Charlie Price, the young fourth-generation owner of the family business, and Billy Porter as Lola, the flamboyant drag queen who inspires the crazy notion of kinky boots, with a solid supporting cast. Harvey knows a thing or two about drag (Torch Song Trilogy, La Cage Aux Folles, Hairspray), and his script is script is full of saucy one-liners. Cindy’s music is right out of the ‘80s, her sweet spot, and so is the choreography by Jerry Mitchell, who also directs.
Act 1 ends with a rousing dance number that uses conveyor belt choreography the way OK Go used treadmills in their famous “Here It Goes Again” music video. Both Charlie and Lola get big “11 o’clock” numbers in the second act. And the grand finale, “Raise You Up” is a sure-fire riff off of “We Are Family” guaranteed to get the audience on its feet
Kinky Boots has the feel of a hit. And for all the ingredients that make it work, it’s Billy Porter as Lola who makes it sizzle. He’s like the love child of Tina Turner and Harvey Fierstein himself in a star-making performance which has both flash and feeling. There’s a corny moral – “accept someone for who they are” – but that’s OK in the context of a very entertaining evening.