Review: Kinky Boots (Broadway in Chicago)

| October 22, 2012 | 0 Comments

Billy Porter, Annaleigh Ashford and Stark Sands star in Broadway in Chicago's "Kinky Boots" by Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein, directed by Jerry Mitchell. (photo credit: Sean Williams)        
       
Kinky Boots 

Music and Lyrics by Cyndi Lauper   
Book by Harvey Fierstein 
Directed by Jerry Mitchell 
Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map)
thru Nov 4  |  tickets: $33-$100   |  more info 
     
         
        Read entire review
     



     
       

The most grin-inducing musical since Hairspray!

     

Billy Porter and Stark Sands star in Broadway in Chicago's "Kinky Boots" by Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein, directed by Jerry Mitchell. (photo credit: Sean Williams)

    
Broadway in Chicago presents
    
Kinky Boots

Review by Clint May 

In the press event preceding the debut of Kinky Boots, the producers noted that the 2005 movie upon which it is based had “musical DNA.” Having not seen the movie just yet, I can’t speak to that, but reading the true story that inspired it, I can certainly see their point. It’s so improbably Hollywood that it screams “make me a movie.” A Northampton shoe factory facing bankruptcy finds a niche market and competes its way back into solvency. The real hook is, as the title suggests, that the inspiration comes in the form of an eye-raisingly taboo market—men who wear women’s shoes. The dream team of Cyndi Lauper on music/lyrics, Harvey Fierstein on book and Jerry Mitchell as director have helped continue opening the two-lane Broadway highway between Chicago and New York with a toe-tappingly good musical premiere that might just have you wearing out your shoe heels before the end of the first act.

Jerry Mitchell, Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper - the creative team behind Broadway in Chicago's "Kinky Boots".  (photo credit: Gavin Bond)We meet Charlie Price (Stark Sands) as a child, being told of his grand legacy of making the most beautiful thing in the world–shoes. Fourth in line to take over his family’s flailing shoe business, he shirks his obligation to pursue real estate marketing in London with his trendy girlfriend Nicola (Celina Carvajal). He can’t quite escape the gravitational pull of Northampton, and following his father’s passing, he returns to his childhood-friends-turned-factory workers and finds himself trying to save the business in spite of himself. With 9 in 10 shoe factories going out of business around him, his desperation leads him to Lola (Billy Porter), a drag queen of fabulous proportions that Charlie rescues one night after mistaking her/him for a damsel in distress. On the heels (forgive the pun) of employee Lauren’s (Annaleigh Ashford) idea that he has to find a way to compete in an area that cheap knock offs haven’t infiltrated, he brings Lola’s peacock plumage into the gray world of the factory to design a new line of boots and shoes designed specifically to carry a man’s weight. This doesn’t bode well with everyone, particularly the gruff Don (Daniel Sherman), who thinks he knows what it means to be a man as the representation of many men’s squeamishness with gender bending. Undeterred, Charlie plunges forth on his audacious scheme to save his friends and factory while learning a little about what it means to walk a mile in someone else’s boots.

The traditional arc of such transformational stories falls in step with previous tropes of changing a mind to change the world previously seen in Billy Elliot, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and La Cage aux Folles. There’s the improbable rise followed by a fall followed by salvation. This isn’t groundbreaking storytelling. That’s just fine when craft and care explode like this to create such a touching small-scale tale. Think of it as an old pattern with dazzling new sequins artfully added. Fierstein’s ever zealous (and hilarious)  one-liners are worth the ticket price alone even without Lauper’s pop-inspired tunes. Continuing his quest to explore the nature of masculinity, Fierstein’s book gives both leads daddy issues for bonding to add to their mutual reluctance to return to small towns and small minds. Anyone curious to see how Lauper handles her first time scoring a Broadway musical will be delighted by the range on display and doubly delighted to see Wicked veteran Ashford deliver the sort of classic 80s sound Lauper helped create. Mitchell’s double duty as choreographer gives him the chance to exploit the small stage to surprisingly innovative ability with the drag numbers being the real draw. One OK-Go inspired inspired piece uses production line conveyor belts to a fantastic effect.

If Mitchell’s first act is a breathlessly paced establishment of characters and stakes with little down time for exploration, the second act delves deeper into the emotional side after winning our hearts. Not everything reads consistently (Charlie’s dad has a strange revelation from beyond the grave that doesn’t jive with his character) and some things feel a little shoehorned in (seriously, forgive the puns), such as Charlie’s sudden turn against Lola after a first act establishing him as a white knight. A final scene of imagined fatherly reconciliation is heartwarming but unnecessary given that these two men are seeking to create independent selves. 

Now on to the performances. This is a simply stellar set of leads with a big ensemble backing them up with equal elan. Sands is perfect as a boyish, lovable guy just trying to figure out where his passion lies. As the more one-dimensional girlfriend, Carvajal still brings it her all, but is upstaged by the ever endearing Ashford, who seems to take the best parts of her years as Glinda and brings an only-a-little-nonsense attitude to her blond bombshell typecasting (and if this is typecasting, I hope she never goes brunette). At the end of the show, it’s clear this is Porter’s production. As Charlie will later note, when Lola isn’t there it’s as though there’s a hole in the room. The same is true of the show, and whenever Porter’s brazenness isn’t on display, a part of you is always waiting for her to bring her light back. He/she gets to walk the fine line into vulnerability too, and that he does it all in sky-high heels is all the more impressive. Aided by his chorus of “Angels” from his London nightclub, he delivers some show stopping numbers sure to become mainstays at drag shows around the globe.

This is the most grin-inducing musical I’ve seen since Hairspray! While there are still some kinks in the boots to work out, it’s quite obvious from the response Chicago has given that its trademark “K” in bright red and glitter is going enliven marquees for a long time. It’s exciting to be there to see it all coming together and know that Chicago got to be there first, and I look forward to the day it returns to see what has and hasn’t changed. As heartwarming as the hype, these Kinky Boots were made for lovin,’ and that’s just what they’ll do.

  
Rating: ★★★★
  
   

Kinky Boots continues through November 4th at Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map), with performances Tuesdays thru Fridays 7:30pm, Saturdays 2pm and 8pm, Sundays 2pm and 7:30pm.  Tickets are $33-$100, and are available by phone (312-977-1700) or online at TicketMaster.com. More info at BroadwayinChicago.com or KinkyBootsTheMusical.com(Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes, with intermission)

Stark Sands and Billy Porter star in Broadway in Chicago's "Kinky Boots" by Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein, directed by Jerry Mitchell. (photo credit: Sean Williams)

Photos by Gavin Bond and Sean Williams 


     

artists

cast

Stark Sands (Charlie Price), Billy Porter (Lola), Annaleigh Ashford (Lauren), Celina Carvajal (Nicola), Daniel Sherman (Don), Marcus Neville (George), Paul Canaan (Angel/Ensemble/Asst. Dance Captain), Kevin Smith Kirkwood (Angel/Ensemble), Kyle Taylor Parker (Angel/Ensemble), Kyle Post (Angel/Ensemble), Charlie Sutton (Angel/Ensemble), Joey Taranto (Angel), Andy Kelso (Harry/Ensemble), Tory Ross (Pat/Ensemble), Jen Perry (Trish/Ensemble), Josh Caggiano (Young Charlie), Adinah Alexander (Mrs. Cobb/SM/Ensemble), Eugene Barry-Hill (Simon Sr./Ensemble), Stephen Berger (Mr. Price/Ensemble), Eric Anderson, Caroline Bowman, Eric Leviton, Ellyn Marie Marsh (Ensemble), John Jeffrey Martin (Richard Bailey/Ensemble), Marquise Neal (Young Lola), Clifton Oliver (Lola Standby), Nathan Peck (Dance Captain/Swing); Sandra Denise, Robert Pendilla, Lucia Spina (Swings), Sebastian Hedges Thomas and John Ernest Adams (Young Lola Standby)

behind the scenes

Jerry Mitchell (Director/Choreographer), Cyndi Lauper (Composer and Lyricist), Harvey Fierstein (Book Writer), Stephen Oremus (Music Supervisor/Arranger/Orchestrator), David Rockwell (Scenic Designer), Gregg Barnes (Costume Designer), Kenneth Posner (Lighting Designer), John Shivers (Sound Designer), Josh Marquette (Hair Designer), Randy Houston Mercer (Make-up Designer), Kathy Fabian/Propstar (Properties Coordinator), Brian Usifer (Music Director), Michael Keller (Music Coordinator), Rusty Mowery (Associate Choreographer), DB Bonds (Associate Director), Amy Jo Jackson (Dialect Coach), Telsey + Company (Casting), Chris Smith, TheaterSmith, Inc. (Technical Supervisor), Daryl Roth, Terry Allen Kramer, Yasuhiro Kawana, Allan S. Gordon, Adams S. Gordon, Jayne Baron Sherman, Kim Kierstead, Gregory Rae, Adam Blanshay, Alexander Fraser, Brian Smith (producers)

Cyndi Lauper, composer and lyricist for "Kinky Boots"

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Category: 2012 Reviews, Bank of America (Shubert), Broadway in Chicago, Broadway-bound, Clint May, Musical, New Work, Video, World Premier, YouTube

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