Kinky Boots, national tour presented by Broadway in Boston, Boston Opera House, through August 30. (800) 982-2787 or http://www.BroadwayInBoston.com.
Acceptance and inclusiveness are hallmarks of “Kinky Boots.” Based on the 2005 British movie of the same name and inspired by the true story of a transformed UK men’s shoe factory, the Harvey Fierstein-Cyndi Lauper musical – now in a rousingly wonderful national tour at the Boston Opera House – centers on the unlikely but ultimately strong partnership of straight-laced entrepreneur Charlie Price and drag performer Lola born Simon.
As in the film, Charlie – based on actual factory owner Steve Pateman in the village of Earls Barton, Northamptonshire – is struggling to keep his factory open and viable in the face of plummeting demand for traditional leather brogues and spiraling area closings (approximately 20 real-life company closings).
While Pateman’s salvation comes from a fetish show shop looking for erotic footwear, Price & Son finds its redemption as the result of the unexpected meeting of Charlie and Lola. Where Pateman called his new line Divine Footwear, Price gives his two-and-a-half-foot-high niche footwear the title name.
Harvey Fierstein’s book solidly details the transformation of both Charlie and his company and the development of the strong and stylish boots headed for international viewing on Milan runways. If the message about acceptance and inclusiveness becomes somewhat preachy in the later going, Lauper’s remarkable score – both snappy and affecting – and director Jerry Mitchell’s eye-catching and high-stepping choreography soar with the musical’s distinctive heart. Price speaks of the factory workers as family, and the catchy full company final number “Raise You Up/Just Be” convincingly demonstrates that inclusiveness.
Some theatergoers may lament the lack of a specific villain a la moral majority spokesman Edouard Dindon in “La Cage Aux Folles” and racist Velma Von Tussle in “Hairspray.” Yet “Kinky Boots” has its own singular villainy – namely, the inner limiting assumptions to which everyone is vulnerable.
Even as Charlie accepts his business partner, he must overcome both a discriminatory bossiness and a view of the Angels – Lola’s accompanying drag performers – as a “ramshackle bunch.” For his part, Lola must rise above the verbal and emotional abuse (exacted by his father) that have dogged him since childhood. Such a transcendence is beautifully expressed in the poignant second act solo “Hold Me in Your Heart” – a number as moving in its own way as gifted vocalist Effie’s signature anthem “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” in ‘Dreamgirls.”
Kyle Taylor Parker, who played one of the Angels in the still-running electrifying Broadway original (at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre) also sharply directed by Mitchell, displays fine attitude and principled quirkiness as Lola. His drag queen has the right swagger, while his suited moments as Simon are equally persuasive.
If Billy Porter’s “Hold Me in Your Heart” was as brilliantly unique as Jennifer Halliday’s “I’m Not Going” (Dreamgirls), Parker comes close. Steven Booth captures Charlie’s early restraint in business and relationships and his later full emotional openness. Booth’s tentative attempt to model the title iconic red boots in Milan (based in part on Pateman’s own modeling of boots for catalogue) is a comic highlight.
Lindsay Nicole Chambers as Charlie-enamored Lauren gestures terrifically on the standout lyrics of “The History of Wrong Guys.” Joe Coots makes the most of initially macho hardliner Don’s recognition of Lola.
Mitchell justly won Tonys as both director and choreographer. Show-stopping numbers like “Sex Is in the Heels” and “Raise You Up/Just Be” have as much sparkle as Gregg Barnes’ blingy outfits and boots for the Angels and Lola – especially during the Milan runway sequence. Stephen Oremus skillfully conducts Lauper’s smart combination of disco, pop and bluesy soul – the latter particularly during Lola’s solo and the touching Charlie-Lola duet ”Not My Father’s Son” – as well as the catchy rhythms during the making of the boots on David Rockwell’s authenticity-rich factory set.
Early on, Lola quotes the Oscar Wilde axiom “Be yourself. Every one else is taken.” Call “Kinky Boots” a joyous celebration of self and this handsome tour well-sewn.
– Jules Becker