Kinky Boots**** (Al Hirschfeld Theatre, New York)

Posted: May 5, 2014 in Theatre

kinky_boots_broadway_billy_porterThis review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

In the old days, a Broadway musical might have been set in Bali, Siam or the Austrian Alps. Now it is Northampton, which, as a sign on the opening set usefully points out, is in England. When the Americans adapted The Fully Monty into a musical, they re-located it to Buffalo, but this time, working from another modest British film comedy, they have let it stay put in its original home and all the better it is for that. This is the show that won Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical for its star, Billy Porter, at the 2013 Tony Awards. Essentially, it is a song and dance extravaganza in the classic Broadway style, so seekers of depth and subtlety may want to look elsewhere. Here we have a simplistic, joyful and life-affirming show which has its huge heart in all the right places. The story concerns a business manufacturing quality men’s shoes which is going bust through being unable to compete with cheap foreign imports. Charlie inherits the factory reluctantly when his father dies and, after a chance meeting with Lola, a flamboyant drag artist, he develops the idea of saving it by catering for a niche market – designing and making “kinky” boots to be worn by cross-dressers. Having been responsible for the book of La Cage aux Folles, Harvey Fierstein is hardly breaking new ground here and, as with that earlier show, there are times when the script drags (in the wrong way) and becomes overburdened with treacly sentimentality. However, for the most part, the show is bright and witty, helped along considerably by Fierstein’s inspired collaboration with Cyndi Lauper, a girl who just wants to have fun and does exactly that time after time. Billy Porter’s Lola is brash and sassy, coming to vibrant life when decked out in a brightly coloured wig, sequinned frock and very high heels. As she leads her drag troop performing numbers such as the provocative Sex is in the Heel, the show blazes to life and the choreography dazzles. Conversely, playing her alter ego, Simon from Clacton, Porter is touchingly diffident and uncertain. Andy Kelso has the thankless tasks of playing opposite a showstopper and of enlivening the rather dry Charlie, but he does well and handles his big number, Soul of a Man, confidently. The pair’s duet, Not My Father’s Son is very moving, but it is one of several examples of Lauper’s lyrics being stronger than her melodies. The breezy pop songs are often in the style associated with Lauper as a performer. Indeed, when Lauren (delightfully played by Jeanna De Waal), a factory worker with her eye on Charlie, sings the comic The History of Wrong Guys, it is difficult not to imagine the song’s writer standing there. American actors’ command of British accents seems to have come a long way since the days of Dick Van Dyke and notable among a strong supporting cast are Cortney Wolfson as Charlie’s irksome soon to be ex fiancé and Daniel Stewart Sherman as a homophobic neanderthal who, as is inevitable in a show like this, gradually mellows. Jerry Mitchell’s fast moving, slickly choreographed production hits all the right notes, bringing glam and glitter to the fore and it build to a glorious finale with the anthemic Raise You Up. Kinky Boots may not quite belong in the very top drawer of Broadway musicals, but it is an undoubted crowd pleaser and, deservedly, a resounding hit.

Performance date: 30 April 2014

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