timberland desert boots Boots Kicks Up Its High Heels At The Bushnell
How kinky is “Kinky Boots”? Not as kinky as you may think. For for all its talk of how sexy footwear can be (including a passionate discourse on the allure of bright red, and a song called “Sex is in the Heel”), there’s very little talk of actual sex. “Kinky Boots” fits comfortably with other musicals about overcoming adversity and oppression and achieving higher self realization, from “Hairspray” to “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” to “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”
Not that there aren’t a few production kinks in this multi Tony winning Broadway hit’s first national tour (which began in September, is at tThe Bushnell through Sunday, June 28 and will return to Connecticut to play the Shubert in New Haven in June 2016). The British accents are wildly inconsistent. Some of the stage action is limited to pushing crates of shoes around. The large cast over 30 performers, including separate chorus lines of factory workers and drag queens doesn’t always have enough to do. The singers are so overmiked and the acrobatic dances so carefully timed that some of the routines seem as mechanical as the machines in the show’s shoe factory setting.
But even with these seams showing, “Kinky Boots” is a tightly laced, upstanding, well heeled kick in the social consciousness. It’s an empowering tale of personal identity, community tolerance and entrepreneurial chutzpah.
The show treads pretty closely to the 2005 film on which it’s based, so closely that the first 15 minutes is a blur of flashbacks, family vignettes and plot points that can barely be contained by the show’s set design. Even when this flurry of exposition settles down, the stage show must contend with a multitude of set changes. The central location is the British town of Northampton, where shoemaking has been major local industry since the 1800s. But there are also scenes set on the streets of London, in nightclubs, in pubs, and in the show’s grand boot filled finale at an international shoe design showcase in Milan, Italy.
One of the big deviations from the screen version to the stage version is the level of confrontations between Lola, the drag queen who revolutionizes the sleepy little boot factory with ideas for elegant leg length laced stiletto boots to be worn on drag club runways. The movie’s armwrestling competition between Lola and the neanderthal worker Don in the film, for instance, has become a full fledged boxing match. On tour, Don is played by Joe Coots, whose previous national tour was in another gender consciousness raising musical based on a movie, “The Full Monty.” Don doesn’t get his own song, but he does get some emotional moments of self awareness plus a scene stealing costume change in the show’s final minutes. Cyndi Lauper won a Tony Award for her “Kinky Boots” songs, and they certainly do their job in fueling the plot (almost as neatly as the classic pop tunes by David Bowie, Nina Simone and others did for the film). But many of the lyrics and sentiments are needlessly simplistic: “The Most Beautiful Thing in the World,” “Take What You Got,” “Not My Father’s Son” and especially the tedious first act closer “Everybody Say Yeah.” There are a few gems, however, and they tend to be solo numbers for the central characters.
Steven Booth plays Charlie, the addled young everyman who’s charged with saving his late father’s shoe factory, with such a wholesome ordinariness that it’s hard for him to make the character distinctive. (This is an actor whose previous roles include Richie Cunningham in the national tour of “Happy Days The Musical”). Charlie finds himself at last with a rousing pun filled guitar fueled glam rock number called “Soul of a Man.” As Lauren, the sweet feisty factory worker who has a crush on Charlie, Lindsay Nicole Chambers doesn’t have any such problems distinguishing herself in her earliest scenes. With her blonde hair and stocky build, she stands out immediately from the stereotypically broad and lumpy shoe factory workers around her. Yet Chambers fits neatly into the ensemble when she has to, for those heartwarming scenes where the whole community puts aside their differences and works together to save the business.
Kyle Taylor Parker is a ravishing, supremely self confident Lola. She leads some rousing ensemble drag numbers with fabulous aplomb, but also nails a sensitive solo turn, “Hold Me in Your Heart,” that adds gravity and pathos to “Kinky Boots”‘s epiphany filled second act.
“Kinky Boots” makes it safe for mainstream American theatergoers to enjoy a drag show. It’s a story of cultural acceptance on a grand scale, with a great pit band and dozens of flashy feet.