Kinky Boots was a musical that I wanted to see for a long time, but had just never gotten around to. It was always plan B – if we can’t get tickets to X, we can go see Kinky Boots. It was a backup, a fallback, something that I was interested in, but never made a priority. There’s always a show that I want to see more and Kinky Boots was perennially runner-up. Part of that was because the musical has been out for a while and I’m someone who is typically chasing “the next big thing.” Kinky Boots made a lot of noise when it debuted and won the Tony in 2013, but a lot has happened on Broadway since then. But though I took the show a bit for granted, I did want to see it. I had quite enjoyed the 2005 movie (starring Joel Edgerton and Chiwetel Ejiofor) that the musical was based on and as a child of the 80s, knowing that Cyndi Lauper did the music was a definite selling point. So when a traveling production of the show came to town this time, I decided that I was finally going to cross the show off my list. Musicals don’t run forever and I’d hate to miss out on seeing it just because I kept kicking the can down the road.
Kinky Boots tells the story of Charlie Price (Adam Kaplan), a man from a small town who has conflicted feelings about taking over the family business – a floundering shoe factory. In order to turn the business around, they need to find a new underserved niche. Enter Lola (J. Harrison Ghee) – a drag queen cabaret performer who is looking for women’s shoes that can support the weight of a man. An unlikely and uneasy partnership is formed between the two and the preconceived notions of Charlie and his staff are challenged. The musical basically hews pretty closely to the plot of the movie, so if you have seen that (and I recommend it), there won’t be a ton of surprises.
I have to say that I really enjoyed Kinky Boots; the cast overall was great, but I have to particularly single out Ghee for stealing the show. He was fantastic. Lola is the best role in the musical; while technically the role of Charlie is probably considered a co-lead, he’s just the straight man (pun intended) to the fabulousness that is Lola. She’s the heart and soul of the show and Ghee absolutely nailed it. When he’s on stage, he almost sucks up all the oxygen in the room, so it’s a testimony to the rest of the cast that they manage to prevent him from dominating the entire production. Kaplan also did a very nice job as Charlie and provided a much needed balance to the extravagance of Lola. While Lola is the showiest of the performances, other characters are also given moments to shine. Factory worker Lauren (Tiffany Engen) gets a silly little ballad about her crush on Charlie and Don (Aaron Walpole) has his own narrative arc about acceptance. There are plenty of laughs in Kinky Boots, but there are also poignant moments as well. I really liked the choreography of the show as well; in “Everybody Say Yeah” the cast does some impressive work on treadmills:
And hats off to Lola and her stable of fellow drag performers who did all of the fancy footwork of the show in heels that I cannot even begin to imagine wearing. There is a 100% chance that I would fall down just standing still in their shoes so I was super impressed at how flawless they all looked.
By the time the show ends with a big dance party on the stage, you can’t help but have a huge smile on your face. Everyone in the audience was on their feet, clapping along and having the best time. You walk out of Kinky Boots in a great mood and having had a fun evening/afternoon. Obviously Kinky Boots isn’t Hamilton, but I’m glad that I finally made the effort to actually see it. The music is catchy, the performances were solid and hopefully it reminds its audience that our differences matter less than our similarities (though, admittedly, I’m guessing the people who go to see Kinky Boots don’t need much of a reminder). In my opinion Kinky Boots is one of the few musicals that has a stronger second act than first; I was entertained before the intermission, but it was the second half that really won me over. Lola is the show, but the rest of the characters more than just carry water for her. Kinky Boots is just a really good time.
Kinky Boots is currently playing at the Al Hirschfeld Theater in NYC and is on a U.S. Tour. Dates and ticket information can be found here.