BWW Review: KINKY BOOTS at Broadway Theater League
"Kinky Boots," the 2013 Best Musical Tony awardee, is big, brassy, loud, outrageous, surprisingly tasteful, and mostly fun at the Kansas City Music Hall now through Sunday. Audiences are guaranteed more than a smile from this stylish show with a book by the singular Harvey Fierstein and music by 1980s perpetually off center pop icon Cyndi Lauper.
The show retells the mostly true tale of a failing, rural, UK, legacy shoe factory facing an economy obsessed with cheap prices regardless of quality product. The premise sounds pretty tragic and vaguely familiar in a postindustrial Midwest, but Fierstein and Lauper wring out all the humor before adding a little social commentary.
Young Charley Price (Adam Kaplan) wants out of small town Britain for London's city lights. Charley and Nicola (Charissa Hogeland), his childhood sweetheart, have purchased a flat in which to restart their lives. Charley's cell phone suddenly rings with news that his father has passed on. Charley is needed at home.
While making his way down a darkened London street, Charley sees two toughs appearing to molest a young woman. Charley intervenes but the toughs punch him out. Charley awakens in the dressing room of cabaret singer Lola (J. Harrison Ghee). It turns out the girl Charley attempted to save didn't need saving at all. The fact of it is she isn't a she at all. Lola is a former boxer who can defend herself pretty darn well.
Charley arrives home. Without the elder Price to run the business, the shoe factory must close. Lauren (Tiffany Engen), a bright factory girl, suggests Charley search out a new niche market and maintain the company. Something clicks and Charley recalls that Lola, the cross dressing cabaret singer, complained that her high-heeled go-go boots are not built for the weight of a man. Kinky Boots may be the niche market that will keep the factory open.
Oddly "Kinky Boots'" unlikely plot is based on an actual UK shoe factory now making brightly colored go-go boots for men. The story only needed lights, sets, costumes, songs and minor embroidery stirred in by Fierstein, Lauper and Director Jerry Mitchell to conjure up a hit musical. Which all proves (with apologies to Irving Berlin) "There Is No Business Like Shoe Business."
Adam Kaplan and J. Harrison Ghee as Charley and Lola are excellent as actors and singers who create a real friendship despite very different lives. Charley in the end chooses to be with the factory girl, Lauren. Lauren (Tiffany Engen) has a real flair for physical comedy, is cute as a button, and makes the absolute most out of her few songs.
Kinky Boots reliably delivers at least two kinky bootfulls of audience fun. The show is a little uneven in spots and it gets a little preachy in Act II, before recovering with a big finish. Women in drag have been entertaining since before Milton Berle. They remain self-deprecatingly fun in Harvey Fierstein's imagination.
Tickets for Kinky Boots are available on the Theater League website or by telephone at (800)745-3000.
Photo credit: Broadway Theater League.