Theatre Review: ‘Kinky Boots’ Still Stands Tall in New Off-Broadway Production

By Lawrence Pfeil, Jr.

Giving second life to Broadway hits with off-Broadway reincarnations has met with varying degrees of success since the trend began with Avenue Q.  When the Tony Award winning production closed in 2009 it, reopened five blocks north at New World Stages where it ran for a decade.  By contrasts, the 2011 revival of RENT at the same venue, referred to by some as SUBLET (and with good reason), ran only months.  Clearly a major hit from the main stem does not guarantee a reprise when the show gets paired down for a smaller house.  In fact, the only real suspense when it does is did it translate well?

For the new off-Broadway production of the six-time Tony Award winning Kinky Boots which opened last night at Stage 42 the answer is yeah – as in Everybody say, Yeah!

Kinky Boots Company, Photo Credit: Matt Murphy/MurphyMade

With the creative team virtually intact from the original Broadway production, it’s hard to call this Kinky Boots a revival.  While other OB transfers have suffered from their cutdown move squeezing into a tiny theatre, this one found a theater that fits it like a glove or in this case, an open toe slingback pump.  The physical production hasn’t been stripped down so much as condensed in a way that maintains the necessary parts without making them feel minimized while maximizing and maintaining its style.

For anyone who has seen Kinky Boots before, “KB22” is as visually satisfying as any first-class production.  In fact, at intermission one audience member was overheard saying, “I think this is even better than Broadway.”  One element noticeably stepped up is Gareth Owen’s sound design the likes of which you’re probably not going to hear outside of the hottest NYC clubs, decibel levels included.

But first and foremost, Kinky Boots centers on “binary star turn” performances poised on very different sets of heels, Lola played by Callum Frances and Charlie Price played by Christian Douglas.  They are each other’s champions and challengers in a contemporary tuner about acceptance and self-love that touches the soul.

Christian Douglas, Callum Frances and Company, Photo credit: Matt Murphy/MurphyMade

Callum Frances returns to NYC as Lola via Broadway, but also as the only artist to play the role on three continents across five different companies.  It’s easy to see why.  Frances’s doe eyed authenticity shines through out whether in stilettos as the sensational Lola or in flats when the sensitive Simon is introduced.  Given the spectrum of emotions the role demands, it could easily veer off into campy exaggerations and/or bitchiness, but Frances combines the finesse of a drag queen applying a false eyelash with the comic timing of Lucille Ball finding one in her soup.

Making his New York City debut, Christian Douglas’s heroic good looks reframes Charlie Price from “everyman makes good” to “man running away turns and fights for everyone.”  It’s easy for Charlie to be diminished by the towering presence and radiant force that is Lola, even when the story revolves around him, but Douglas plays Charlie’s hubris with such command that the impact of his downfall rivals Lola’s brilliance.  Even more so, Christian Douglas possesses one of the most stellar tenor voices heard on a New York stage in years.  He owns every one of Charlie’s numbers and his 11th hour song of redemption, “Soul of Man” brings the house down and tears to the eye.

(Jerry Mitchell, Harvey Fierstein, and Cyndi Lauper, Photo credit: Gavin Bond)

The 2013 Broadway debut of Kinky Boots marked the collaboration of the three legendary artists in their fields: playwright, Harvey Fierstein, singer/songwriter, Cyndi Lauper, and director/choreographer, Jerry Mitchell.  To tell a story of outsiders, survival, and acceptance as a musical, it was a creative dream team if ever there was one.  Winning the Tony Award that year for Best Score, Cyndi Lauper didn’t just make history as the first woman to do so, but she also did it with her first show.  Seeing KB22 is a reminder of how well deserved her Tony was and how superb its score is.  Every song connects, and you leave the theatre singing a few – always a good thing.  What’s more, the entire show connects, maybe now even more than when it first opened.

Many musicals, especially those by the late Stephen Sondheim, have been called “ahead of their time.” Considering where we are as a nation nine years after Kinky Boots premiered, its message and lessons of accepting others, being who you want to be, and lifting each other up are more relevant and important today, perhaps even a little prophetic.

Kinky Boots is based on the 2005 film of the same name by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth, but what many don’t know is that film was inspired by a true story from a BBC2 docuseries in 1999.  To save his family’s shoe factory, the owner accepts change, not only to survive, but to thriving.  These are issues of humanity with us still and will be tomorrow which everyone, business owners, families, and individuals all face.   No one said change is easy; it rarely is, but as the song says, “you change the world when you change your mind!”

Sean Steele and Angels, Photo Credit: Matt Murphy/MurphyMade

Speaking of change, KB22 walks, or rather struts, its own talk by keeping up with the present as Harvey Fierstein has updated one icon line.

“Ladies, Gentlemen, they, them

And those who have yet to make up their minds…”

It may seem strange to some for a show that’s only been closed for three years to reappear already, but for Kinky Boots its timing is as impeccable as Jerry Mitchell’s direction and choreography.  It’s startling how much has happened, how much we’ve changed, how much hate has taken hold in our world.  We need to be reminded of the power in truth, love, acceptance, pride and in finding our joy.  Trust and believe, you can find absolute joy for two hours and twenty-five minutes at Kinky Boots eight times a week at Stage 42.

“If you hit the dustLet me raise you upWhen your bubble bustsLet me raise you upIf your glitter rustsLet me raise you up!”

 

KINKY BOOTS

Book by Harvey Fierstein

Music and Lyrics by Cyndi Lauper

Directed and Choreographed by Jerry Mitchell

Running Time: 2:25 with intermission

Stage 42, 442 W 42nd St., New York City — Open End Run

More Information, Performance Schedule, and Tickets at KinkyBootsthemusical.com 

Follow Kinky Boots on Twitter @KinkyBootsBway  and Instagram @KinkyBootsBway

 

(Main image via website)

Lawrence Pfeil, Jr., is a freelance writer/playwright who has reviewed film and theatre, both on and off Broadway, for media outlets including The Randy Report, the New York Blade, and Edge Publications.

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