Anthony J. Piccione
We’re about halfway through the 2010s right now, meaning that a good portion of the shows that people will still remember generations from now when they look back on this decade have already premiered on stage. Inevitably, as the winner of the 2013 Tony Award for Best Musical, Kinky Boots is bound to be among those shows. Just a few years after its world premiere, it remains highly popular among theatergoers across the world. I think it’s fairly safe to say that that’s not going to change any time soon.
However, the way I’ll remember this show a decade from now won’t be the same way that others might remember it. Having had the chance to see this show recently, I will remember this as one of the most overrated musicals of all time. I’m sure there is a large portion of people in the musical theatre world who will disagree – in some cases, STRONGLY disagree – with my opinion of this show, and tell me about how much they loved the show. To those people reading this, I hope you will take the time to hear me out, as I state the reasoning behind my opinion in this column.
Just to give you some background, here is a basic rundown of my experience watching Kinky Boots that helped me form this opinion. Just a few weeks ago, I went to go see the National Tour of the show at the Bushnell Performing Arts Center in Hartford, Connecticut. I went in with relatively high expectations, and given the fact that it won the top prize at the Tonys, I believe I was right to do so. Nonetheless, by the time Act I was over, while I felt things had picked up a bit near the end of the act, I couldn’t help but feel that so far, it was not living up to those expectations. Fifteen minutes and one glass of wine later, Act II began with me hoping that it would be far better than the first act. Yet by the end of the night, I went home thinking that the people involved in Matilda could be forgiven for feeling robbed in 2013. This show proved to be a disappointment, and as a result of my experience watching it, I now consider it to be one of the most overrated musicals still on Broadway today, if not THE most overrated.
So now you’re probably asking: What specific parts of the show led me to believe this? Let’s start my taking a look at what I consider to be – whether it’s a musical or not – the most important aspect of any theatrical show: the plot. Based on the 2005 film with the same title, the story that lies at the heart of Kinky Boots was generally underwhelming. As someone who strongly takes the plot of a show into consideration when judging its quality, I have to say that – while there were a few decent highlights – I was generally unimpressed. Aside from it being a musical, it would appear that this show is a mixture of both comedy and drama, yet it seems to fall short in both genres. If we are to look at this as a comedy, than there weren’t nearly enough moments that made me laugh out loud. If we are to see it as a drama, there weren’t nearly enough moments that made me connect with the characters of the story on a personal or emotional level, with the exception of just a few particular musical numbers which I’ll talk about more later in the column. In my opinion, if a show is intended to be a combination of both genres, it needs to be strong in both aspects in order to be successful. This is largely why I felt the story was underwhelming, and it was a big reason why I feel that the musical failed to live up to its reputation. However, that wasn’t the only reason why I left the theater that night with a great sense of disappointment.
While the various production elements of the show were indeed of high-quality, it’s hard to see what stands out, compared to many other Broadway shows that have been successful. The sets and the lighting help make the visual aspect of the show a success, and the people involved in the technical elements of the show certainly deserve credit for this. I also believe that the show’s choreography helped enhance certain scenes in the show. The show’s finale, in particular, is when elements such as this are on full-display and put to the best possible use. However, as good as this all may be, it’s hard to see what makes it a particularly unique show, to the point where it gets such raving adoration from several theatergoers. Finally, I should also note that there were also few characters in the show that really stood out in my mind, with one exception…
The only truly notable highlight of this production, as far as I’m concerned, was Lola. The musical numbers “Not My Father’s Son” and “Hold Me in Your Heart” were especially poignant moments in the show. Granted, I was not treated to Tony-winner Billy Porter in the National Tour that I attended, although I had seen video clips (Cue the “No, videos aren’t the same” comments) of his portrayal before. Nonetheless, the performer who did portray Lola that night still delivered a very strong vocal performance in the show. Given how the Broadway performers often are just as great, if not better, than the performers seen in the National tour, I can easily see why the Tony went to Billy Porter for his portrayal of Lola in the Broadway production. With that said, one great performance by a particular actor is not enough to merit the praise that the overall show tends to receive.
The bottom line is that I don’t think this is necessarily a BAD musical. While it does little to stand out from other Broadway shows, the show’s technical aspects are indeed as high-quality as you can expect from any entertaining Broadway show, and the performance of Lola is very much worthy of praise. It is also worth mentioning the fact that its success seems to reflect the further growth in acceptance and support for LGBT equality, and that’s obviously something to feel happy for, regardless of whether you’re a fan of the show or not. But in terms of the quality of the show itself, I considered it a very disappointing experience when I went to go see it, and I believe that – based on the criteria I just mentioned, which I typically use to judge a show’s quality – I do not think it deserves the enormous amount of praise and devotion that it has received from many theatergoers.
Alright, disagree with my opinion? Fire away in the comments section…