What would Broadway do without cross-dressing lads? More to the point, what would Harvey Fierstein, who wrote the book to Kinky Boots, the funny, high-kicking new musical at the Hirschfeld, do without them? For Boots, which is based on a 2005 Brit-indie movie, he reaches into the wig rack from another show whose book he created, La Cage aux Folles. Thirty years on, however, the requisite message of tolerance has been updated, and the central love story is hetero.
The love stories, as it happens, are among the few disappointing bits in Boots, which has been given tuneful songs by Cyndi Lauper, in her Broadway-composer debut, and infectious direction and choreography by Jerry Mitchell. Central character Charlie Price has inherited his family’s shoe factory in Northampton, just at the moment when his girlfriend, Nicola, has whisked him away to London for a more stylish life. As Charlie, Stark Sands is saddled with an odd second-act plot development, but is redeemed with a winning finale.
As for Lauren, a factory worker who fancies Charlie, it’s unfortunate she isn’t given more second-act spotlight. Annaleigh Ashford, who plays her, has a terrific voice, and the comic inflections in her first-act number, “The History of Wrong Guys”, have the audience roaring. As for the love life of Billy Porter’s Lola, the transvestite who saves Charlie’s business by taking his product line from bland brogues to bang-up boots, it is non-existent. Have we reached the place where the right to get married means LGBT characters are going to be neutered? In a musical whose giddiest sequence is called “Sex Is in the Heel”?
I hope not. And in any case Kinky Boots focuses its family-safe heart more on gaining the acceptance of fathers than the assent of lovers: very Billy Elliot. That Boots manages to transform such influence owes a lot to Lauper, whose work is more a series of songs than a plot-advancing score, but who serves up a handful of affecting ballads and some disco punch. Also wonderful: Mitchell’s choreography for the up-tempo numbers.
The production would be unthinkable without Porter. Lola’s put-downs are priceless even when her jokes as written are not, and the actor transcends the generic Whitney and RuPaul touches to deliver a roaring success of a performance. The audience, which gets a rousing Mamma Mia!-like finale, goes home happy.