If last night's 10-minute standing ovation is any indication, “Kinky Boots” is a bona fide, crowd-pleasing hit.
If you've been waiting for the reviews to come in before buying your tickets, you might want to forgo the heels and put on your flats. You're going to need them to race down to the Bank of America Theater to get tickets. Like "The Producers" before it, Chicago is being treated to a first look at what should be one of the Broadway season's biggest hits. And the show is only here to Nov. 4 and thus should quickly become the hottest ticket in town –and quite deservedly.
Based on the 2005 sleeper film of the same name, “Kinky Boots” features a book by Tony winning playwright Harvey Fierstein, a score and lyrics by Grammy-winning pop icon Cyndi Lauper and energetic and well-paced direction and choreography from Tony award-winning director Jerry Mitchell. It's a rousing, heartfelt and sentimental musical that happens to have a drag queen front and center.
"Kinky Boots" tells the story of Charlie Price (Stark Sands) who, after his father's death, reluctantly leaves his more urban-minded fiancé Nicola (Celina Carvajal) in London to return home to Northhampton to run the family's shoe business. The shoe business is in decline and Charlie is faced with the possibility that he may have to soon sack several of the factory workers, including the feisty Lauren (Annaleigh Ashford).
After a chance meeting in London with a drag queen (Billy Porter, as Lola) with a broken highheel boot, Charlie decides that the niche market of women's shoes for men might just be the thing to save the family business, but he'll have to convince the closed minded blue collar workforce and Lola (whom he wants to design the shoes) that it is a good idea.
As Lola, Billy Porter is mesmerizing in a performance that will surely earn him a Tony nomination. His Lola is equal parts Tina Turner and Whitney Houston, fierce in his delivery of both line and song.
Annaleigh Ashford, best known to Chicago audiences as Glinda in the sit-down production of “Wicked” nearly stops the show with the hilarious “The History of the Wrong Guys” (which also happens to be the most Lauper-sounding song in the show.
Barring some miraculous recovery, the economic climate in the musical should resonate with theatergoers (assuming, of course, economically depressed factory workers can afford to go to live theater; hey, there's always the TKTS ticket booth). In an age of Bain-style venture capitalism, the very idea that Charlie would choose to return home and save the family business (as opposed to leveraging it to the hilt, driving it into bankruptcy and collecting his golden parachute on the way out) may seem particularly far-fetched. The fact that both musical and film are based on a true story may seem the work of fantasy in a country where CEOs like Charlie are an even smaller niche than those shopping for women's footwear in men's sizes. We could use a few more Charlie Prices, willing to strap on heels and do the right thing, though.