Kinky Boots: a family musical with irresistible kick
by Drew Rowsome - Photos by Cylia von Tredemann
Finally a musical for the whole family. Any family: a drag family, a family values family, a leather family, a traditional nuclear family, a family going nuclear . . . Kinky Boots is so irresistible that everyone from your bratty butch nephew or your closeted cousin to your uptight uncle and your religious grandma, will love it. And be better for having seen it.
Harvey Fierstein's book is witty and the plot zips along on a lubed luge of one-liners. Cyndi Lauper's music and lyrics mine disco hits to create a catchy if slippery score, I left humming a mash-up of "Born This Way," "True Colors" and "I Am What I Am," which I think was one of the rousing numbers in the first act. Jerry Mitchell's direction and choreography delineates characters as they race through scenes framed by an unobtrusively but astoundingly versatile set. This is a well-oiled machine Broadway-style. That is a compliment.
The large cast never misses a beat or a joke. Alan Mingo Jr as Lola/Simon, struts, sparkles and tucks, pun intended, every scene under his sequinned skirts and sashays away with the adoration he deserves. AJ Linder gets the best number, "The History of Wrong Guys," and rocks it through the roof. Every time the Angels, the gaggle of drag queens who are Lola's Greek chorus, appear they receive a round of anticipatory applause. And then they earn it. Daniel Williston (Evil Dead the Musical) goes from homophobe to hero and, predictable as the character arc is, is delightful as a buffoon and as a dancing queen.
Graham Scott Fleming (Legally Blonde, Rent, Next to Normal, Avenue Q) finally gets a leading man role on a big stage and takes to it like a drag queen to heels. Fleming is supportive in the shadows of Mingo and company until his centrestage moment with "Charlie's Soliloquy"and "Step One" when we are reminded of just what a vocal powerhouse he is. His comic pratfalls leading into a climactic cathartic moment are so endearing that the audience roots for poor nerdy Charlie Price and rises to their feet.
Kinky Boots is all about acceptance and empowerment. It boils down to a simplistic equation of drag queens equal good, condominiums equal bad, which definitely put all Church Streetians on board. It would have been nice if the drag queens, especially Lola, had been given love interests - they are sexy but sexless, they are angels - but that might be asking too much of a mainstream Broadway hit. Lola uses some standard dragspeak but she also quips that, "There's a roomful of people out there looking to feel normal by comparison." By the end of the evening there is no comparison, everyone wants to join in, don some kinky, and leave "normal" behind.
With opening night falling at the tail end of a very soggy Pride, I was jaded and constantly analyzing the political ramifications of what was transpiring. Every time an emotional button was pushed, and there were many, I resisted. Resisted until the jubilation surrounding me was overwhelming, the infectious exhilaration was rolling off the stage, and then, a moment that should have been hackneyed, should have rang false, was so damn manipulative that I cursed Fierstein's name, crystallized the Kinky Boots ethos. I teared up with sheer joy, sobbed, stopped tapping my feet and started dancing. Kinky Boots is irresistible.
Kinky Boots is in a open-ended run at The Royal Alexandra Theatre. 260 King St W. mirvish.com