Those Kinky Boots Still Hold Up!

Those Kinky Boots Still Hold Up!

William Statham

  • OnStage New York Columnist

The first time I visited the 6 time Tony Award-winning musical Kinky Boots at the Al Hirschfeld Theater, it was a hot, sticky morning in the dog days of summer in 2013. The musical had just won best score (princess of pop's Cyndi Lauper in her Broadway songwriting debut) and best musical at that year's Tony Awards. The creative team was a home run with Harvey Fierstein writing the book and Jerry Mitchell directing and choreographing. It was all the rage and (next to Matilda) the hottest ticket on Broadway at the time. I woke up at the crack of dawn to be among the lucky members of the rush line to snag a ticket. I naively thought that 7 a.m. was an appropriate hour to arrive on line. I was dead wrong. The line was already halfway down 45th and slowly inching closer and closer to 9th ave. Needless to say, I opted to pay full price for a seat in last row of the orchestra on the far right end. My initial thought of the show: Entertaining? Sure. Groundbreaking? Eh.

Fast forward to this past Monday night, half hour before curtain at Kinky Boots and a line that inched all the way up 45th  and was wrapping around onto 8th Avenue. The lesson learned? The show is still as popular as ever and showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

As with all shows, the initial thought that comes to mind with shows that garner a lot of attention and awards with a definitive cast who delivers magnetic performances is: Who will possibly replace these people? Who is gonna be able to step into these roles and carry the show on to future success? Not all shows manage to survive the crucial period after actors who establish roles and win awards on Broadway finish their contracts and/or move on to bigger and better things. But with Kinky Boots, one thing is clear: the show is clearly the star.

Billy Porter won a Tony Award for his performance as the vivacious Lola. She lets it be known very early on at the beginning of act one to Charlie (originally played by Stark Sands) that she is no transvestite, but a drag queen; and a damn good one at that, as if anyone needed to ask her to explain the difference.

The tricky aspect of Kinky Boots that I noticed in 2013 when I first saw the show and that still rings true today is the beginning of the show. The initial jolt that brings the audience into this world and sets the tone for the show. On a large scale, the show is of course about Lola and Charlie, who is salvaging his father's shoe-making business outside of London just as his father has died. His fiance,Nicola, is desperately seeking a new, secure posh life in London while Charlie is yearning to find himself and his place while staying true to his father's legacy. He also feels the pressure from the factory workers (like an extended family) to save the company, using a new "niche clientele." This is a bit unexpected and less desired by the people of the town and Price & Son's shoe factory. Enter Lola.

However, Lola doesn't appear until several minutes into act one, but once she hits the stage? POW! The audience has it's boot straps on and is ready to strut through the rest of the show. This brings us to the ultimate question. It's been over three years since Kinky Boots hit Broadway. Is the show still holding up? Or are these boots not made for walking anymore. The answer: the sex is most definitely still in the heel and these boots are shiny red and holding up better than ever.

I must admit. On my first visit to the show, I found it to be a little too candy-coated and nicely wrapped. Even a bit semi-preachy. Of course we should accept everyone for who they are and embrace everyone's differences. Duh. But what a minute. Fast forward from the climate of the world (especially in this country) from 2013 to 2016. Look at everything that has happened in terms of gay rights and race relations. Gay marriage is legal now in this country, yet we still have gay bashings in this country that barely reach the evening news. We claim to be so progressive in our race relations and yet we have protests weekly in cities all over the country. Kinky Boots is more necessary and relevant than ever. 

The added element is the tourist factor. While standing outside the Al Hirschfeld Theater on Monday night, one thing was blaring and obvious. Roughly three quarters of this audience (if not more) were tourists! The show has far surpassed just being a hot ticket for the theatre elite and theatregoers of NYC. It's fanned out to middle America, who has finally had the tour reach them and those same audience members are bringing their moms and dads, friends and others to the show when they visit NYC. Maybe we in NYC are open-minded and free thinking. But what about middle America? Kinky Boots is revolutionary in being the show that is finally bridging that societal gap and making people from all walks of life "change the world, when they change their mind."

So just how is this new cast? Stellar. Top to bottom, still. Of special note is a very long, leggy and lanky Alan Mingo, Jr. who's Lola immediately wins you over with the batting of his long eyelashes. With every stinging joke, anecdote or quip that came out of Lola's mouth, there was the fluttering of the eyelashes and there was an instant warmth that exuded forth. The audience immediately fell in love with Lola. There was something amazingly endearing about Alan's "Lola." Incredibly laser-focused and consistent. You constantly felt her cover up when the hurt got too close and became too real. Her humor was her shield against the sting of the ignorant English blokes of the town.

Special recognition should go to Aaron C. Finley, who made his debut as Charlie in the show on Monday night. Great, powerful voice. His big act two soul-searching number, "Soul of a Man," brought down the house. Not only was he great in the role, but he brings forward the deep connection that Lola addresses in the great lyric from the act one duet "Not My Father's Son": "We're the same, Charlie boy, you and me." It still astonishes me that such a true story of a black drag queen and a shoemaker in the rural backyard of London could lead lives that are one and the same essentially. Also of special note are the hilarious Jeanna de Waal as Lauren who totally made the role (originally created by the incomparable comedienne Annaleigh Ashford) her own. The ensemble creates and holds this show together like glue. Each caster member creates a specific and identifiable person of this rural English town and  you feel their cohesive leave. You also see their arc in character and the audience grows and changes with them. They're blue-collar and you can relate with them. That makes us love them all the more.

So for the record: zip up those heels and strut yourself runway-style down to the Al Hirschfeld Theater while Lola and her Angels are still giving Kinky Boots LIFE, as the kids say.

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