Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Theater Review: Kinky Boots

Billy Porter and The Angels (L-R: Kyle Post, Kevin Smith Kirkwood, Joey Taranto, and Paul Canaan). Photo: Matthew Murphy
The Latest Film-to-Stage Musical is Kinky and Politically Correct Enough for Theater Community to Embrace It
By Lauren Yarger
Grammy-Award winner and pop star Cyndi Lauper (music and lyrics) and book writer Harvey Fierstein (Newsies, Hairspray, La Cage aux Folles) team to bring Broadway its latest film-to-stage incarnation, Kinky Boots, widely being called the "feel-good" musical of the year. I would call it the "politically correct" musical of the year, but more on that later.

Directed and choreographed here by Jerry Mitchell, the musical tells the story of the Price and Son Shoe Company in Northampton, England, where Price (Stephen Bergers) grooms son Charlie (a very handsome and golden-voiced Stark Sands) to take over the business. Charlie doesn't share a passion for the family business, however, and moves to London with childhood sweetheart, Nicola (Celina Carvajal).

"May you never fail to point your shoes back home," Price says, giving his son his blessing to pursue his own dreams in the first of the show's "accept people for who they are and whatever they want to do" messages. This is in contrast to an earlier scene in which we are shown the devastation of a little boy (Marquise Neal, who hams it up), a contemporary of young Charlie (Sebastian Hedges Thomas) in the village, who shames his father (Eugene Barry Hill) by wanting to wear a pair of spiked red women's shoes. But more on that later....

When Price dies, Charlie returns home to try to save the shoe factory with the help of long-time manager George (Marcus Neville), perky shoebox stuffer Lauren (Annaleigh Ashford) and workers Trish (Jennifer Perry) and Don (Daniel Stewart Sherman) among others.

Orders for the boring line of men's shoes are being cancelled at an alarming rate, however, and the future of the factory is in peril. Charlie convinces his old friend and discount shoe salesman Harry (Andy Kelso) to take surplus inventory off his hands, but unless Price and Son can find an untapped niche market in the shoe world, and make a product that people actually want, like Lauren advises, the factory will have to close.

When Charlie is attacked in London's red light district one night, he finds inspiration thanks to Lola (Billy Porter), a drag queen who entertains with his backup "girls" known as the Angels (Paul Canaan, Kevin Smith Kirkwood, Kyle Taylor Parker, Kyle Post, Charlie Sutton and Joey Taranto.) Porter, who at times sounded like he might be fighting voice strain, takes the role way over the top and almost sounds possessed when he tries to unnerve unenlightened characters by talking to them in a "sexy" voice.

It seems the entertainers keep breaking the heels of women's shoes, not designed to hold the weight of men, and Charlie thinks a new line of "kinky boots" designed specifically for transvestites might just be what the company needs to survive. He needs someone with first-hand knowledge of the product to design it, however, and convinces Lola to come back to Northampton with him.

Lola is reluctant to return to the small town with bad memories (that little boy with the red spiked heels was he). That's where bullies like his father who disowned him or Don who mocks his need to dress like a woman reside. Lola agrees to help his new friend, Charlie, however, who seems accepting and willing to listen.  There's a moving ballad for Porter, "I'm Not My Father's Son," but I wished Sand could have sung a duet on it instead of just listening. After all, Charlie had issues with his father too.

Soon a line of kinky, colorful boots that Lola describes as "two and a half feet of tubular sex" start moving off the assembly line and Charlie makes plans to launch them at a shoe show in Milan (Gregg Barnes designs the sparkling, tacky, kinky costumes and boots).

The factory that produced a "range of shoes for men," now produces a "range of shoes for a rage of men."

When Charlie suddenly doesn't seem all that accepting of Lola and becomes more and more demanding of his workers, he alienates everyone including greedy Nicola and Lauren, who has been trying to romantic feelings for her boss. Ashford's very funny turn when the realization and reluctance of her heart hits her is a highlight of the show and probably will bring her some award nominations. Charlie finally realizes the error of his ways when Don inexplicably sees the light and discovers how to accept people for who they are. Lola's dad comes around too.

So if you haven't figured it out yet, and if you don't catch it by the oft-repeated introduction uttered throughout the show, "Ladies and gentleman and those who have yet to decide....", the theme here is everyone, regardless of the sexual preferences, is OK and should be accepted for who they are. Almost everyone I have heard talk about the show refers to it as "the feel good show of the year."

I'd suggest that it's really the "politically correct" show of the year, beating out Douglas Carter Bean's social-justice-themed Cinderella. Here's why:

The music here is OK. It's Lauper's first Broadway show and while the tunes are pleasant and catchy, they're not outstanding by any means. I can't hum more than one now, even while looking at the song list and right after seeing the show. The lyrics are repetitive and very simple and I spent a good deal of the show guessing-- correctly about 90 percent of the time -- what the next line sung would be.

The book is flawed with a lot of holes to force the theme.

"If you want to be treated like a man, act like one," Charlie suddenly spits at Lola.

Why, when  he previously he has seemed accepting of Lola? Only so he can promote the theme of acceptance by having a change of heart.

Why does Don suddenly see the light (so much so that the buy dons a pair of the kinky boots) simply because Lola shows him kindness after a ridiculous boxing-match scene? Only so he can promote the theme of acceptance by having a change of heart. (The boxing scene makes hokey choreography on conveyor belts at the factory set designed by David Rockwell seem not so bad in comparison) 

Why does Lola's father sit through a performance by Lola in drag and then suddenly embrace him after having refused to see him, even in the face of his own impending death? Only so he can promote the theme of acceptance.

I usually admire Harvey Fierstein's writing skills a lot. Some of the book issues here might have been inherited from the movie written by Geoff Deane, Tim Firth and based on a true story. Haven't seen it, so can't be sure. I also don't object to a message that all people are entitled to respect. What I do take issue with is that flawed production will be lauded simply because it has a politically correct message.

The musical I saw that had so-so music, weak lyrics and sketchy book was Scandalous. That one was laughed off the stage after only 29 performances with critics hotly criticizing Kathie Lee Gifford's ability as a book and lyrics writer. But Scandalous is about evangelist Aimee Semper McPherson -- and Christianity isn't among the politically correct themes embraced by the New York Theater Community. I heard critics say outright that they didn't want to review the show because they disagreed with the Foursquare Church's stance on same-sex marriage. If they did attend, it was unlikely that they would love a musical produced by the church, featuring its founder and written by a person who professes faith.

Another musical with a faith theme, Hands on a Hardbody, doing about 60 percent of its seating capacity over at the Brooks Atkinson, has posted an early closing notice as well after getting a lukewarm reception from critics and theatergoers. As a person of faith, I enjoyed the message of that show -- another film-to-stage piece based on a true story. As a critic, I can tell you that book and some of the music was flawed and it also isn't one of the best shows ever to hit a Broadway stage. When it closes Saturday, it will have had a run of just 28 reguar performances.

To me, these three musicals, Scandalous, Hands on a Hardbody and Kink Boots are all pretty much in the same ballpark in terms of production structure and quality. But which of these three shows is being hailed as "the feel-good musical" of the year and being embraced by theatergoers? The one with the politically correct message, selling out over at the Hirschfeld Theatre, of course.

Kinky Boots is at the Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 West 45th St., NYC. Tickets: http://kinkybootsthemusical.com/.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Cross dressing, obviously.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

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I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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