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Kinky Boots
THEATER REVIEW
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2012-10-24

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Playwright: book by Harvey Fierstein, music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper. At: Broadway in Chicago at the Bank of America Shubert, 18 W. Monroe St. Tickets: 800-775-2000; www.broadwayinchicago.com; $23-$65. Runs through: Nov. 4

For five generations, the sturdy employees of Northhampton's Price & Son's shoe factory have produced sturdy brogans for sturdy Englishmen. The fashion for cheap imports, however, forces Charlie Price to confront the failure of the family business (a scheme endorsed by his social-climbing fiancée). Ah, but one night in London, Charlie comes to the aid of a lady threatened by thugs, and is knocked cold for his gallantry. He awakens in the dressing room of a grateful female impersonator named Lola, who remarks on the difficulty of finding footwear suited to her profession—and a niche market is born.

Who doesn't cheer for a pack of scrappy underdogs triumphing over big-bucks adversity? Not only does Harvey Fierstein's book champion the survival-through-adaptation entrepreneurial spirit, but also takes note of evolving social values as the industrial workers come to accept their cross-dressing rescuers. Indeed, Charlie and Lola find that they share similar geographical and filial experiences. Oh, there are setbacks—rehab-happy real estaters, bigoted woad-collar tradesmen, our two comrades coming to terms with their own aspirations—but from the first moments, the dramatic flow propels us inexorably toward a happy resolution for everyone.

The propulsion owes its momentum to composer/lyricist Cyndi Lauper's lovingly crafted score ranging from introspective ballads like "I'm Not My Father's Son" and "Hold Me in Your Heart" (the latter a shoo-in for the wedding/cabaret/contest-show circuit) to strut-time anthems like "I Come to the Rescue" and the adrenaline-pumping "Raise You Up" finale. The solo vocalists—notably Stark Sands, Billy Porter and Annaleigh Ashford—acquit themselves impressively on songs written for Lauper's own multiple-octave range. Director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell's utilization of his environment—in particular, conveyer-belts that quickly transform into vogue-worthy treadmills—likewise keeps the visually sensual Victorian-ornate stage picture vibrant throughout.

A Broadway-bound musical at this level of development is usually far clumsier than the one currently occupying the Bank of America's Shubert. Yes, the psychological dynamic of a friendly boxing match (an amateur sport less popular in the United States than in the United Kingdom) needs to be clarified for American audiences, and Charlie's stress-induced recanting of his hitherto gender-tolerant attitude requires either foreshadowing or, better yet, reining in. That said, a show as exuberant as this—that's 95 percent ready for the Big Time—is still an auspicious opportunity for pioneering playgoers.

The show is to transfer to London in 2015. See more at www.kinkybootsmusical.co.uk/ .


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