Road Review: ‘Kinky Boots’ on Broadway is a blast

Charlie is in a tough position. Shoes are not flying off the shelves the way they used to, and since his father passed away, the family shoe business has been bequeathed to Charlie’s care. As is the case with those who are both blessed and cursed to take over the family’s bread and butter, there is much apprehension with Charlie. He is a gentle soul, but has had it with building conventional gentle soles.

Charlie (Andy Kelso) and Lola (Billy Porter) join forces to breathe life in a small town factory in "Kinky Boots." (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
Charlie (Andy Kelso) and Lola (Billy Porter) join forces to breathe life in a small town factory in “Kinky Boots.” (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

A rebirth is had when it comes to seeing Lola at a drag show. Lola is a powerful performer, one that is hard on the shoes. And when Charlie (the boyish charmer Andy Kelso) sees Lola (a first-rate Billy Porter) wearing a pair of shoes for a woman, shoes that would have a hard time keeping up with the rigors and weight of a man, he decides to dive head first into the niche market of dragdom.

Thus begins a magical journey, where shoes become boots, bland becomes kinky, and the Northampton, England factory experiences a freshness and rebirth of epic proportions.

Broadway’s “Kinky Boots” is an epically fun time at the theatre, led by a fresh and warm book by Harvey Fierstein and dazzlingly joyous music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper in her Broadway debut. It is also loaded with plenty of sharp laughs and a whole lot of poignancy. The show is at its finest because it is both happy and touching, led brilliantly by Tony Award winner Porter in a star-making role.

Lola (Billy Porter) and the Angels in "Kinky Boots." (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
Lola (Billy Porter) and the Angels in “Kinky Boots.” (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

What really makes the show soar is that it is loaded with slight twists and turns that make the apex of each journey so fresh and organic. While there are star performances aplenty in the show, there is no denying the star of the show is Lauper’s music itself. Lauper as a composer has a lovely range, writing absurdly catchy ditties like “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and the subtly naughty “She-Bop, while also penning sharp, mesmerizing ballads such as “True Colors.” Here, Lauper’s composing range is at the forefront of these on-point performances. Whether it is a joyous call-and-response tune like “Everybody Say Yeah,” which brings the house down with ferocity at the end of act one, or the missile of a jam in “The Sex is in the Heel” which showcases the sharpness of director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell’s lovely dancing drag queens, the songs pulsate through you at every turn.

Other moments feature some stunning ballads that get to the heart of Lola’s motivations, such as “Not My Father’s Son,” which pays off beautifully by a stunning denouement in act two. These moments pack a powerful punch.

Each performance has the right amount of nuance and heart. Porter, who delivered as passionate a Tony Award speech as they come, has extraordinary range, the real feel of a true Broadway star. Kelso is certainly conflicted as the ally to Lola, and plays lots of truth as his character makes some horrendous decisions, which break hearts and trust. Jeanna de Waal is absolutely adorable as Lauren, a young lady whose secret love for Charlie is warm and vibrant, all while showcasing a bright, brassy belt. The drag chorus named “The Angels,” to which athleticism knows no bounds, further expands the power and vision of Mitchell’s choreography. Throw in Daniel Stewart Sherman’s portrayal of Don, the personification of everything Lola despises in small-town England in a role the audience both loves and loathes and loves some more. By the way, there might not be a more intimidating opening turn off your cell phone message in all of Broadway.

“Kinky Boots” is one of the best times one can have in a theatre. It’s joy, warmth and message is not preachy, yet a reminder of what it means to be a compassionate human. It might not be enough to get you to go out and buy a pair of these dazzling, red heels, but it comes pretty damn close.

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

“Kinky Boots”
Directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Music and Lyrics by Cyndi Lauper
The Word: A joyous and powerful romp through a factory in small town England that has plenty of joy and heart.
Stars: 4 out of 4
The Al Hirschfeld Theatre
302 W. 45th Street
New York, NY 10036
Tickets range from $57 – $137
For tickets and more information, visit the official website.
“Kinky Boots” will be a part of the SHNSF 2014 – 2015 season.

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