“Kinky Boots”: Broadway’s Feel-good Romp Stomps Into Town

Posted on October 20, 2014, 3:32 pm
6 mins

Steve Pateman, by the turn of the millennium, was struggling to save his shoe factory. The factory had been run by his family for generations, but simply was not able to bring in the kind of revenue to keep the production line going or to pay Pateman’s workers. He made the unusual decision to use the existing machinery to create fetish footwear for men, labeling it “Divine Footwear”. This process was filmed and broadcast in an episode of BBC’s documentary series Trouble at the Top. The story inspired a full-length film, Kinky Boots written by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth and directed by Julian Jarrold.

After attending a screening of Kinky Boots at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, Tony Award-winning producer Daryl Roth felt compelled to use this unusual incident as inspiration for a musical. Hal Luftig, after seeing the film in London, had similar thoughts and collaborated with Roth to secure the rights to adapt the film into a musical. They convinced Tony Award-winner Harvey Fierstein to write the musical, who in turn commissioned his friend, the versatile musician and composer Cyndi Lauper, to provide the music and lyrics, and Kinky Boots, the musical, was born.

Few things are less exciting than a depiction of a sensible, responsible heir to a struggling shoe factory in the English Midlands. Enter the musical’s biggest and most effective change from the original events that inspired its creation: drag queens. Charlie Price, of Price & Sons, encounters Lola, a drag performer who provides the surprising solution for his failed shoe factory—ditch the dull, sensible leather shoes for men, and produce heavy-duty ‘kinky’ boots for men.

Throughout the musical the contrast between Price (played by Steven Booth) and Lola (played by Kyle Taylor Parker) provides the momentum and friction to propel the plot forward. Add a half-dozen conservative “manly men” factory worker types, a half-dozen drag queens, the more neutral landscape of the female factory workers, and the hint of a love triangle, and you have the fodder for the feel-good romp of a season.

Kinky Boots opened in 2013 and entered the awards season as an underdog against the highly anticipated Matilda the Musical. It went on to earn 13 Tony nominations and six wins, including Best Musical and Best Score. Writer Harvey Fierstein’s adaptation, effectively focusing on “…two young men from seemingly opposite worlds, who figure out that they have a lot in common, beginning with the need to stand up to their dads” has delighted audiences on Broadway ever since, with the 2014 touring company stomping its way into the hearts of theatre-goers across the United States.

Kyle Taylor Parker as Lola shone throughout the evening, with unstoppable energy, sassy humor and endearing optimism. (Parker played one of the angels in the original Broadway production). The meant-to-be duller counterpart to the flashy Lola, good ol’ sensible Charlie Price, played by Steven Booth, provided the perfect contrast to Lola’s larger-than-life character. The essence of the musical lies in their relationship, both as business partners and friends, and the on-stage chemistry in this regard was spot-on.

The cast of the First National Tour of Kinky Boots, coming to The 5th Avenue Theatre.
 Credit Matthew Murphy

Lola (Kyle Taylor Parker, left) and Charlie Price (Steven Booth, right) in the First National Tour of Kinky Boots.
 Photo by Matthew Murphy

Lauper’s score for the musical ranges from show tunes to pop and effortlessly provided the pendulum between the serious and the outrageous, in such flashy numbers as “Sex is in the heel,” “Everybody say yeah” and “Raise you up/Just be,” the touching Parker-Booth duet “Not my father’s son,” and the comedic lovelorn Lauren (played by Lindsay Nicola Chambers) in “The history of wrong guys.”

Kinky Boots’ greatest strengths lie in its charm; even difficult issues of acceptance, trust and equality are approached with light humor and optimism. While the most dramatic scenes are downplayed—a touching duet sung through a toilet stall door, or a quick one-sentence reunion between estranged father and son—Kinky Boots succeeds in convincing the audience that a more accepting world and tolerant society could be achieved in a matter of minutes. This nonchalant approach, while hardly identifiable as hard-hitting activism, has succeeded in introducing these non-traditional characters and their struggles in a charming, empathic way.

If the reaction of the audience at 5th Avenue Theatre is anything to go by, Kinky Boots will continue to win hearts and admiration as it continues its trek across the United States.

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The cast of the First National Tour of Kinky Boots, coming to The 5th Avenue Theatre.
 Photo by Matthew Murphy

 

Kinky Boots

When: Runs through October 26

Where: 5th Avenue Theatre (1308 5th Ave)

Tickets available through www.5thavenue.org

Johann Van Niekerk is a writer, conductor and collaborative artist based in Seattle, WA. He holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Washington where his research focused on the role that music has played throughout history in effecting social change. Van Niekerk covers performing arts events in and around Seattle.

2 Responses to: “Kinky Boots”: Broadway’s Feel-good Romp Stomps Into Town

  1. Leslie Ann Wheatley

    October 23rd, 2014

    Loved the show! Great write up Johann!