Nearly a decade after debuting on Broadway, the crowd-pleasing musical “Kinky Boots” has returned in better shape – this time to Off-Broadway’s lovely Stage 42 -- than any 10-year-old shoe in history. Essentially a re-creation of the original production, once again directed and choreographed by the great Jerry Mitchell, the show (adapted from the 2005 film of the same name) cheerily serves up a still-timely message of self-acceptance for all men and women (gay, straight and those who have yet to make up their mind) in a way so entertaining and so unthreatening that it’s unlikely to offend anyone.
It cleverly does so by following the emotional journeys of the show’s dual protagonists: Charlie Price (an almost too-charismatic Christian Douglas), the aimless son of a British shoe factory owner who reluctantly takes over the family business after daddy’s untimely death, and drag entertainer Lola (the dazzling Callum Francis) – real name, Simon – whom he accidentally encounters after visiting a London pub.
Charlie, who has just learned the factory is on the verge of extinction, gets a moment of inspiration when he sees Lola’s cheaply made thigh-high boots and realizes they aren’t really made to support a man’s weight. He then convinces Lola to become a designer for a new line of trans-friendly footwear, which will be shown shortly in Milan and which Charlie hopes will resurrect his struggling business.
One might expect more drama when Lola agrees to temporarily relocate to Northampton, but she has only some minor difficulty in adjusting to both her new gig and a return to small-town life. Indeed, everything is going so smoothly by Act I’s vigorous finale (“Everybody Say Yeah”), you may wonder why there is a second act.
And, indeed, that’s where Harvey Fierstein’s otherwise efficient book lets us down. A major conflict arises between Charlie and Lola as suddenly as a pile-up on I-95 and is then resolved with ridiculous swiftness. And Fierstein might also have been wise to simply eliminate the shrewish character of Charlie’s fiancée, Nicola (a bland Briana Stoute), especially as she proves to be no obstacle to Charlie’s eventual romance with down-to-earth factory worker Lauren (a charming Danielle Hope).
Making her first foray into writing for the musical theater, Grammy Award winner Cyndi Lauper has crafted a score full of infectious melodies and smart, sensitive lyrics. Her up-tempo tunes, notably “Sex Is in the Heel” and “Raise You Up/Just Be,” instantly get the blood pumping; Lauren’s comic aria, “The History of Wrong Guys,” is a smile-inducing showstopper; while Charlie’s self-revelatory ballad “The Soul of a Man,” Lola’s divalicious “Hold Me In Your Heart,” and the pair’s heartbreaking duet “I’m Not My Father’s Son,” are all worthy of extended applause
As would be expected, Mitchell’s athletic, energetic choreography – especially as executed by his amazing “Angels” (including original cast member Kevin Smith Kirkwood) -- also earns it rightful share of oohs and aahs. Meanwhile, David Rockwell’s well-conceived sets and Gregg Barnes’ superb costumes, both of which know just when to be flashy and when to be simple, are just like Lola herself.
So is “Kinky Boots.” It has plenty of surface glamour, but its best qualities are an abundance of heart and soul.
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Callum Francis, Christian Douglas, Danielle Hope, Sean Steele, Brianna Stoute, Marcus Neville, Nick Drake, Ian Gallagher Fitzgerald, Kevin Smith Kirkwood, Marty Lauter, Ricky Schroeder, Tarion Strong, Bella Coppola, Ryan Halsaver, Lucas Pastrana, Liz Pearce, David J. Socolar, Ebrin R. Stanley, Devin Bowles, Matthew Michael Janisse, Lindsay Joan, Maria Wirries, Tommy Martinez, Ryah Nixon, Ernest T. Williams
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