Kinky Boots, playing until this February 8th at the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center courtesy of Prather Production’s Broadway in Broward series, is in many respects a fairly typical musical comedy: one in which a plucky underdog fights for a noble cause amidst an array of colorful characters.
Our protagonist, Charlie, is a young man whose father’s sudden death leaves him in charge of the family’s struggling shoe factory.
He’s on the brink of closing Price and Son’s doors for good when things take a turn for the fabulous. A chance meeting with the glamorous drag queen Lola inspires Charlie to break into “an underserved niche market” by developing a women’s shoe strong enough to support a man’s weight. Thus, the titular “kinky boots” are born!
Kinky Boots is based on a little-known British film that is, weirdly enough, loosely based on a true story. 80’s sensation Cyndi Lauper wrote the show’s lyrics. Who still knows how to have fun. Her catchy pop-inspired show tunes are nothing if not enjoyable, and you’ll probably leave the theatre humming quite a few of them!
I loved the book, written by Harvey Firestein, who is also known for writing the similarly flamboyant La Cage Aux Folles and originating Edna Turnblad’s role in Hairspray.
There’s not too much iconoclastic about the show’s themes and storyline. The necessity of collaborating on shoe-making forces more conservative characters to learn to accept Lola’s unconventionality. In contrast, Charlie and Lola learn to be truer to themselves.
However, if Kinky Boots is a show that leans towards formulaic silliness, it’s all mighty good-hearted, good-sounding, and good-looking formulaic silliness. The show was visually stunning throughout, thanks in no small part to the fantastic set and the ever-changing outfits of Lola and her posse of fellow drag queen “Angels.”
As we learned in my recent review of Evita, a well-designed spectacle can be quite spectacular, and I’d much rather see my extravagant outfits donned by drag queens than by dictators! John P. White provided some stellar costumes, though the highlight, of course, was the show’s namesake boots, which provide quite the memorable sight gag when donned by some unexpected characters in the show’s finale.
Though Charlie spends most of the story playing the straight man to Lola’s extravagance, actor Luke Yellin still projects a winning charisma. He gets the chance to rise to occasional rock star heights in numbers like Soul Of A Man. Yet, the show’s true standouts were Payton Reilly as Lauren. They delivered her singular solo “History of Wrong Guys” with an expert comedic sensibility and a voice to rival mainstream pop stars, and David Lamarr as Lola. The latter nails both the character’s larger-than-life persona and is more vulnerable out of drag moments.
However, it may be worth noting that the only romances represented in Kinky Boots are heterosexual ones and that even the seemingly flaming drag queen Lola eventually expresses their attraction to women. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with a straight cross-dresser; it’s more that I question the lack of any demonstrably gay characters in a show written to appeal to a gay audience.
Kinky Boots played on Broadway from 2012 to 2019 and took home several Tony Awards in the meantime, including one for Best Musical. Other musicals’ continued success featuring prominent characters whose self-presentation stretches gender norms suggests that cross-dressing is now mainstream enough to not put off the touristy masses, which is grand. Maybe a song from Monty Python’s Spamalot, which suggests that “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway” if you don’t have any Jews, should instead assert that you won’t succeed on Broadway if you don’t have any drag queens!