Dallas — The splashy musical Kinky Boots tells the story of a shoe factory that switched from conservative gentleman’s business shoes to making high heels for a different kind of gentleman: a drag queen. Of course, women’s spike heels are not designed to carry the weight of a man and this is a problem for the full range of men who wear women’s clothes, especially drag queens, who are entertainers and require more from a heel than fabulousness.
But fabulous will do just fine in tour of the 2013 Best Musical Tony winner, which opens the year for Dallas Summer Musicals at the Music Hall at Fair Park, which is directed and choreographed by Tony winner Jerry Mitchell. North Texans will get a double dose of the show this year, as the tour will play Fort Worth’s Bass Hall in October.
Both the musical and the 2005 movie on which it is based have a basis in reality. A British shoe factory really did turn to making such shoes, called Divine Shoes, and it was a decent profit center for them (but never more than 50 percent of their business.) In real life, this side venture came from a specific order and only lasted a few years.
Such a dull back-of-the-business-page story would never do for a front-page movie and Broadway musical (which sticks quite close the movie). The plot is greatly enhanced, enlarged, sequined and romanticized.
Here, the untimely death of his overbearing father puts the slightly nerdy Charlie Price (Steven Booth) in change of the nearly bankrupt shoe factory. On a trip to London, he ineptly steps in on a bunch of toughs harassing drag queen Lola (J. Harrison Ghee) with disastrous results. He finds himself in the completely foreign world of frocks and stubble. The problem of heels supporting men is presented and, after many false starts, clashes of culture and heartwarming moments, the factory is saved.
Harvey Fierstein’s book is a collection of stereotypes and well-worn situations. There is the rundown British factory from the Full Monty, the crusty working class blokes confronted with non-conforming men from Billy Elliot and the wiser-than-anyone-else loud mouth drag queens from dozens of shows like La Cage aux Folles and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
His dialogue is clever and his sense of timing impeccable. The script gets a little preachy and lacks the deeper layer of raw human emotion that the movie captures. But he keeps one of the glories of the movie in creating a real character out of every person on the stage. Each character, especially the flummoxed factory workers, has a separate identity and personality and we can see them all grow as the musical progresses.
The high-energy score, and lyrics, are by ‘80s pop icon Cyndi Lauper in her Broadway debut (and she won a Tony for it). She gives everyone a chance to strut their stuff. The final number “Raise You Up/Just Be,” is a toe-taper of the first order but the title gives a feel for the “be true to yourself” message that Fierstein explored in La Cage aux Folles. One delightfully naughty number, “Sex is in the Heel,” is destined for drag shows worldwide. There are also some heartfelt, maybe too much so, ballads.
The “orchestra” is synthesized with a guitar, bass, and drums. They make a lot of noise.
As Charlie, Booth does a fine job of portraying all of the sides of this pivotal character. He is shy, but boldly intervenes when he thinks that Lola is about to be mugged. He is conservative but it is his idea to make Kinky Boots. He’s wishy-washy but he inspires loyalty aplenty.
J. Harrison Ghee sashays his way through the role of Lola, dispensing wisdom, born of a hard life, with a sticky layer of sass. It is Lola’s show and Ghee takes full advantage of the spotlight. While his singing and dancing are terrific, his most effective moments are in showing us the difference between the stifled Simon (his real name) and the lavish Lola.
Lindsay Nicole Chambers is authentic as Lauren, the factory girl who subtly keeps Charlie moving in the right direction and eventually replaces his stuck-up fiancée.
The unit set works remarkably well. The effect of seeing the outside wall of the factory, which opens up to the interior, is as though we are peeping in. Gregg Barnes is exuberant with the costumes. The contrast between the entertainers and the factory workers is especially wonderful. In Mitchell’s choreography, there is some easily recognizable Bob Fosse in the movements.
Kinky Boots earned its 2013 Tony for Best Musical, as well as the hearts and enthusiastic applause of the audience at Fair Park. This is a marvelous show, with an important message of self-awareness and acceptance interspersed with high power song and dance numbers and glitz galore.