Kinky Boots (This isn’t what you think!)

24 Oct

This entry is not about Helmut Newton’s erotic fashion photography. Nor is it about Chuck Kleinhans’s famous lecture , “The Social Semiotics of High Heel Shoe Images.” However, both men–each of whom I am (was) honored to know–deeply informed my experience of Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper’s delightful new musical, Kinky Boots.

With a book by Harvey Fierstein (Cage aux Folles, Torch Song Trilogy), and full of the sophistication and wit he brings to depictions of partnerships between straight and gay men, music by Cyndi Lauper, who taught my generation to let their “true colors shine through,”  and inspired by a true story that has been tested in a well-received movie, Kinky Boots should have the bones it needs to become a hit.

Simply put, Kinky Boots is about a drag queen who comes to the rescue of a shoe factory and its heir.  The story is heartwarming and hysterical. The music is sometimes moving, sometimes raucous. Some of the choreography and a few of the voices are a bit uneven, but the overall result was a play that sent us into the night humming and dancing.

Kinky Boots does not deliver the sexual frisson that the title might evoke for you. It is not an erotic tale, nor is it a romantic love story. Adapted from the 2005 movie (dir. Julian Jarrold), Kinky Boots reminds us of that particular British working class genre film, epitomized by the films of Mike Leigh–stories about working class English who conquer prejudices as they come together during hard economic times. It is the story of two men who grew up oppressed by expectations created by their fathers and the society around them. When they meet, they soon discover that they can help each other live lives of their own choosing. It’s an unlikely brotherhood, but it works.

Charlie Price (Stark Sands), the shoe factory heir, challenges the path, moving to London to pursue a different career (Mr. Price: “A toast to Charlie, who is going to pursue a career in, um, marketing which I’m told is not a career in shopping.”).  Charlie isn’t pursuing his own dream, exactly. He’s following the lead of Nicola, his fiancée, who wants to leave behind the small town ways of Northampton. He defines his happiness by hers and takes little responsibility for the direction of his own life.

Stark Sands and Billy Porter Kinky Boots at the Bank of America Theater, Chicago. (photo credit: Sean Williams, TimeOut Chicago)

Simon (Billy Porter) is a black boy from a similar working class background who is being raised to be a professional boxer like his father. He dreams, however, of dancing in high-heeled shoes.  As an adult, he throws off his father’s expectations to become Lola, a drag queen.  As Roger Ebert noted in his review of the 2005 movie, Lola is unlike any other drag queen I’ve seen on stage or screen: Lola is “a man pretending to be a woman, and not a woman trapped in a man’s body, and not a parody of a woman, and not a gay man, but a drag queen, period: Lola, a tall, athletic performer in thigh-high red boots who rules the stage of a drag club as if she were born there, and is a pretty good singer, too.” (Ebert, Chicago Sun Times, April 2006). Porter rules the stage as Lola, commanding our attention whether dressed as Lola, with all her bravado and sex, or as Simon, with all his hesitation and fears.

When Charlie’s father dies and he learns that the business is in dire straits, he leaves London to try, at first, to save the business and then to shut down the factory. However, none of the workers—some of whom are his school chums—are willing to leave and one challenges him to change the product. His girlfriend urges him to close the business and come home. Charlie is stuck in the mire of other people’s expectations and he has no ideas.

Along comes Lola.  Their unexpected meeting lands Charlie backstage at a spectacular drag show where Lola leads her Angels in humorous and sophisticated song and dance, all done in 5” heels. He notices that the drag queens are dancing in women’s shoes which just don’t hold up to their male frames. After a while, he realizes that Price & Sons’ expertise  in well-made men’s shoes and Lola’s fabulous sense of style could combine to serve a niche market and save the company.  He has only to convince Lola to join him.

Charlie’s partnership with Lola causes both men to realize that they are not the only ones living in the shadow of their fathers. In lieu of a romantic ballad, Kinky Boots’ most loving song is “I’m Not My Father’s Son,” in which first Lola—as Sam, the biological identity her father recognizes—explains that even with the “strength of Sparta and the patience of Job” she couldn’t mirror what her father saw because that image isn’t in her soul. In this song, Charlie and Lola discover a deep fraternity, which grows into a true love between them and allows both men to flourish.

Sand’s performance is a bit mixed–at times he truly embodies Charlie. Other times, you think that he was second choice after Matthew Morrison (Will Shuester in Glee) turned down the role. Overall, he brings great heart to the role and we root for Charlie and the factory. Annaleigh Ashford (Wicked, Hairspray) delivers a powerful performance as Lauren, stealing the show with her rendition of “Worst Men in History.” She could use a bit of choreography, as could most of the factory workers. Ashford proves that she can open a show and I hope she will take this role to Broadway.

Like most musical comedies, Kinky Boots holds no surprises in its plot twists and ending. You’ll know from the beginning which woman is Charlie’s true soul mate. You’ll guess which factory worker will save the day in an astounding way at the fashion show in Milan. And, you’ll see Charlie and Lola’s change of attitudes coming.  The show isn’t perfect, but the Chicago run is all about polishing it for Broadway. With the right shine, Kinky Boots will go to Broadway and bring the house down.

 

Advertisements

2 Responses to “Kinky Boots (This isn’t what you think!)”

  1. Jenny Ori October 27, 2012 at 7:48 pm #

    I saw the movie and it was very good…and I think it was a true story.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Co ve světě pánské módy není řešeno | High_Heels_expert - October 25, 2012

    […] Kinky Boots (This isn’t what you think!) (culturebean.com) […]

Share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: