Kinky Boots at Bank of America Theatre | Theater review

This very fun Broadway-bound musical has aces up its sleeve—and down its thigh.

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Stark Sands and Billy Porter in Kinky Boots at Bank of America Theatre

Stark Sands and Billy Porter in Kinky Boots at Bank of America Theatre Photograph: Sean Williams

Kinky Boots, the new Broadway-aimed musical that’s based on the 2005 British film of the same name, joins a recent tradition of shows adapted from small, quirky films from the U.K. and Ireland (The Full Monty, Billy Elliot, Once). Like its brethren, it feels much more heartfelt and necessary than studio-backed, brand-extending Hollywood fare like Legally Blonde or Shrek the Musical. Source material aside, this very fun show also has a number of aces up its sleeve (or down its thigh, as the case may be). Topping that list: Harvey Fierstein, Cyndi Lauper and Billy Porter.


The film concerns a failing English shoe factory whose fortunes are reversed when it gives up manufacturing stodgy men’s shoes in favor of fabulous men’s stilettos, thanks to a chance meeting between the cobbler’s young heir and a flinty drag queen. If there’s one thing La Cage aux Folles and Torch Song Trilogy writer Fierstein knows his way around, it’s drag queens. He also excels at uplifting underdogs, as his Tony nomination this year for adapting Disney’s Newsies attests. Kinky Boots allows him to take his two tastes and make them taste pretty great together, with drag-performer Lola (Porter) winning over the Northampton factory workers supervised by aimless Charlie (Stark Sands), who’s trying to keep the family business afloat following his father’s death.


The weaker points in Fierstein’s book are inherited from the film; a second-act blowup between Charlie and Lola feels particularly unsupported. But Lauper makes a truly impressive debut as a composer for the theater. Better than other mainstream songwriters dipping their toes into musicals (Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5, I’m looking at you), the MTV-era icon seems to understand with her infectiously poppy score that her songs must advance the story and enhance the characters. She even charmingly demonstrates a connection to musical-theater lineage; the second-act number “What a Woman Wants,” in which drag-diva Lola and the female factory workers dispel the macho guys’ chauvinistic ideas, seems a clear homage to Damn Yankees’ “Whatever Lola Wants.”


Director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell stages the show with admirable creativity; the first-act closer “Everybody Say Yeah” makes more dynamic use of the factory’s conveyor belts than an OK Go video. Porter, meanwhile, gives a powerhouse performance as Lola, channeling Whitney Houston in his stunning musical numbers. It’s a shame his character feels a bit sanitized in his nonmusical scenes opposite the factory workers and Charlie, as compared to Chiwetel Ejiofor’s more jagged Lola in the film, but that’s something the creative team can still work on. Appealing everyguy Sands and Annaleigh Ashford, as Charlie’s love interest, do fine work in comparatively thankless roles (Ashford comes delightfully close to derailing the whole show with her comic number “The History of Wrong Guys”). There’s refining yet to be done, but these Boots were made for strutting.


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