Kinky Boots

Kinky Boots

At the time of this writing I am waiting for a new pair of shoes. I wore my old ones out to the plastic inside and they’re really starting to hurt. So I had to buy new ones. I hate buying shoes. I have huge size 13 feet and it’s hard to find shoes in size 13s that aren’t ugly. Plus I have the pessimistic knowledge of knowing that in three or four months I’ll have to buy shoes again. I’d love to go barefoot everywhere but society is full of people crying when they have to see someone else’s feet. Anyway, I saw the national tour of Kinky Boots last night.

Kinky Boots is about Charlie, a young man who inherits his father’s shoe factory at a time when it is struggling to stay open. Through fate he meets a talented and feisty drag queen named Lola. With her help, Charlie comes up with the idea to make men’s shoes for men who dress as women. Lola has some ideas on what the shoes should look like and Charlie has the means to make them.

Got that plot synopsis? Good. All of Act 1 stretches that out for about an hour and a half as the characters sing upbeat numbers penned by Cyndi Lauper. If you like Lauper’s music you’ll easily enjoy Kinky Boots. If you don’t like her music you can appreciate the talented performers singing their hearts out (that’s what I did). A lot of songs sound like they’re ready to have music videos produced for them, and since they’re mostly about shoes that’s not terribly surprising.

Charlie is a bit of a white bread guy. He starts to head out to live his own life but then immediately turns back around to run the factory his father left him. This puts pressure on him, but he seems to handle everything with a level head. That is, until Act 2 when he snaps at Lola and it feels sudden; this is a Charlie we haven’t met before and it’s not clear why. In his following “what have I done?” number called “Soul of Man”, Steven Booth sings wonderfully, but Lauper’s style makes it feel like an inspiring ballad as opposed to a dramatic internal struggle.

Other characters don’t get much fleshing out. Charlie has a fiancee we’re supposed to hate because she’s superficial, but she’s ultimately not a bad person and gets the short stick because Charlie was too weak-willed to say “no” to her. Factory worker Lauren (Lindsay Nicole Chambers) is the “better” fit for Charlie, as she is more down-to-earth and encouraging. Also, she blatantly says she likes him and sings a song about it, so naturally we’re supposed to root for her. Lola is easily the most rounded character, a tough-as-nails drag queen who comes from a bad home life and is brave enough to be herself.

Kinky boots 3

Don’t get me wrong, all the actors did an incredible job and it’s a great production. Whether it was the working-class people from the factory or the leggy Angels (Lola’s drag backup), the entire ensemble was ready to play. The direction and choreography was also fantastic, particularly a boxing scene between Lola and misogynistic factory foreman Don. See, Don didn’t like Lola because she dressed like a girl, so Lola challenged him to a boxing match. Lola showed him what it means to be a real man, which is “ironic” because Lola wears dresses.

Billy Porter played Lola, a role he originated (and continues to play) on Broadway and won a Tony for. He is a Pittsburgh native and took the week off of playing Lola in New York to play her in his hometown. He couldn’t have asked for a warmer welcome, as the audience applauded after every number, scene, or funny line he delivered. Then it came time for Lola’s 11 o’clock number, “Hold Me in Your Heart”. Lola wore a gorgeous white dress, stood center stage, was backed by some GREAT lighting, and Mr. Porter sang the hell out of it. Everything was perfect, and at the end Pittsburgh gave their homeboy a show-stopping standing ovation. When it died down, Lola continued with the (scripted) line “I actually grew up right down the street.” which then garnered more applause. Easily the best five minutes of the entire show.

The main theme in Kinky Boots is to accept someone for who they are (don’t worry, that is said out loud to make sure the message is clear). And I do accept Kinky Boots for the show that it is. Did I like it? Eh, not particularly. But that’s me. And it will bring joy and fun times to other people and that’s great. It’s got a fun pop score, a stellar cast, great direction and tech work, and a Pittsburgh native returning home to shine. Kinky Boots aren’t the shoes I’d buy for myself, but I’m sure others will like how it feels. (See? I tied that opening paragraph in right at the end.)

Kinky Boots

The National Tour, presented by Pittsburgh CLO

Directed by Jerry Mitchell

Written by Harvey Fiersteain (book) Cyndi Lauper (music and lyrics)

Designed by David Rockwell (scenery), Gregg Barnes (costumes), Kenneth Posner (Lighting), John Shivers (sound)

Starring Billy Porter (Lola), Steven Booth (Charlie), Lindsay Nicole Chambers (Lauren), Joe Coots (Don), Grace Stockdale (Nicola), Craig Waletzko (George), and ensemble.

Special thanks to the CLO for complimentary press tickets.

Online tickets seem to be sold out. If you want to check further I would call the Cultural Trust Box Office (412-456-6666) for more information.

Performance Date: Tuesday, August 4, 2015