Over the weekend I made another one of my famous weekend trips to New York. I was only in town for a day, but had just enough time to see two shows. One was already set in stone (I’ll be writing about that one soon). The other was a tougher decision. There are so many things that had just opened or that were in previews that I truly wanted to see.
I ended up making the decision to rush for tickets to KinkyBoots, which is still in previews. I knew some people who’d already seen it earlier in previews, and even someone who’d seen it during the out of town Chicago run. I’d heard good things. Add to that one of my favorite “Idiots,” Stark Sands, being in a lead role and music written by the amazing Cyndi Lauper, a book by Harvey Fierstein, and direction and choreography by Jerry Mitchell and I knew it was going to be a “must see” for me.
I know you gamble with rush seats. Sometimes they’re great. Sometimes not so much. Rush seats for Kinky Boots (at least the ones that I got) were considered “partial view,” but I honestly didn’t miss much. In fact, I was so close to the stage that at the stage door Stark Sands told me he saw me in the audience! If those aren’t good seats, I don’t know what are.
Kinky Boots is based on a movie that is based on a true story (a la Catch Me If You Can??). Charlie Price is the son of a shoe maker. Or at least a person who owns a shoe making factory. Charlie’s father wants nothing more than his son to take over the business and Charlie simply wants to get out of town with his girlfriend. When Charlie is called back to his hometown to take over the shoe factory he realizes that the factory is dangerously close to closing and leaving the entire staff without jobs.
Through a silly mishap Charlie meets Lola, a fabulous drag queen who’s heel Charlie has broken. Charlie offers to fix Lola’s shoe and in the process finds that there is a whole niche market for shoes for drag queens….or Kinky Boots. Of course there are bumps along the way, including Lola dealing with the small town (and sometimes small minded) people in Charlie’s factory town, and a lack of funds to keep the factory afloat while they try to save it.
It’s no secret that I went to see Stark Sands and I LOVED his Charlie. Sands did a wonderful job of trying to accept his fate in a small town, even after leaving (in a different but similar way to his character Tunny in American Idiot) and returning again. Vocally, he does a great job with the music of the show. It is definitely more pop/rock than typical “musical theatre” but it works for Stark’s voice.
Billy Porter is amazing as Lola. Honestly, I didn’t know who he was when I first heard about the show. He’s got a lifelong fan in me now. Vocally, he’s amazing. Porter’s acting is beautiful, more than once he brought a tear to my eye. And even though I could tell there were a few rough spots (he’s been singing HARD, and was on vocal rest at the stage door), he was so much fun to watch, especially in his back and forth transformation between Lola the drag queen and her less flamboyant counterpart, Simon (also, props to the make-up person who had to change that make-up multiple times during the show!).
Some other standouts in the cast included the lovely Annaleigh Ashford and Daniel Stewart Sherman. Ashford played factory worker Lauren who develops a crush on Charlie. She gave Lauren an awkward, yet charming aspect. Her major solo number, “The History of Wrong Guys” got some of the most laughs of the show and it one of the songs I can’t seem to get out of my head. Sherman played rough and tumble factory worker Don, who doesn’t get pushed around and at times does most of the pushing himself. Don learns a lot, and teaches a lot at the same times. Sherman had the ability to turn a character that could have easily been the “bad guy” into someone that you still cared about at the end.
Lolas “Angels” were all so beautiful that I couldn’t help but be a little jealous. In fact, having not looked at the Playbill prior to the show, I even wondered if some of those Angels were women dressed up as drag queens. Nope. All six of them were men. I thought this was one perfect example of the amazing costume design for the show as well. All of the costumes were good, but who doesn’t like to look at lots of glitter and sequence and feathers? The Angels and their costumes (and Lola, of course) were the most beautiful chance to appreciate the costuming.
So, Cyndi Lauper wrote the music of this show. As with most pop stars that write musicals, I expected it to either be really really great or really, really bad. Turns out it was pretty darn great. Nearly all of the music is catchy and has you wanting to dance in your seat while you watch. I already mentioned “The History of Wrong Guys” but there were several other songs that were more than fun. “Sex Is in the Heel” performed by Lola and the Angels was the kind of song that does nothing but make you want to laugh and dance all at the same time. “
I loved seeing the friendship between Lola and Charlie develop, and it did so much of this in “I’m Not My Father’s Son.” You see these two totally different people who seemingly have nothing in common realize that they are more alike than they ever could have imagined.
Billy Porter’s stand out moment, however, was the touching “Hold Me in Your Heart” near the end of the second act. Not only was it a beautiful song, it was also the time that you could most fully appreciate the amount of vocal talent that Billy Porter has. Quite frankly, he was AMAZING.
In the end, this show is about acceptance of where you can from, acceptance of what you are, and acceptance of people who aren’t always like you. It’s safe to say I truly enjoyed myself on Saturday afternoon. And if my opinion alone isn’t enough for you, let me just tell you that the audience on Saturday was LOUD. I mean the kind of clapping and yelling that had the actors pausing to let it die down before they continued on. If that is any indicator of things to come, I think this show will be around for a while. I’ve not been in such an enthusiastic audience since the closing of the first national tour of American Idiot.
There are a few things in the show that I think they could have changed, but overall, it’s a fun show to take your friends to see, and something that you won’t regret paying to see. In fact, I might just go see it again if I have time when I’m in New York next time. I guarantee you’ll walk out humming the songs, and wishing you had a pair of thigh high stiletto boots.