Kinky Boots Is Not as Edgy as It Sounds

The cast of Kinky Boots at the PantagesEXPAND
The cast of Kinky Boots at the Pantages
Photo by Matthew Murphy

Kinky Boots is a musical that can be entirely summed up by its Act 1 finale, a song called "Everybody Say Yeah." (No, really, the song is actually called that. Some combination of the words "say yeah" literally make up 1/3 of the song's lyrics.) The song is far from being genius, but damn, does it have a catchy hook. There's something rather giddying about watching drag queens strut down a conveyor belt.

The show follows Charlie Price (Steven Booth), an aimless young man who inherits his father's ailing shoe factory. Looking for an underserved niche market in need of sturdy shoes, Charlie happens across Lola (Kyle Taylor Parker), a drag queen whose heels keep breaking. Realizing that drag queens need well-made shoes that fit and support them, Charlie and Lola team up to save the factory by manufacturing sexy, thigh-high feet contraptions — "kinky boots."

In many ways, Kinky Boots is a very old-fashioned musical. That may sound daft at first — a musical about drag queens with a Cyndi Lauper score, that's old-fashioned? Well, the characters are decidedly from the early 21st century, but as a show, Kinky Boots is a light and fluffy blast from the past. 

Part of that is due to Lauper's score. It's infectious, but heavily synthesized, aurally hearkening back to the '80s. Director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell adds to the throwback vibe, giving Lola and her angels plenty of chances to shine, both literally and figuratively, thanks to Gregg Barnes' sparkly costumes. Parker is the contemporary definition of "fierce" as Lola, nailing every beat of the choreography and powering through the score's emotional moments. These elements work together to create a fun overall experience.

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As pleasant as Kinky Boots is, though, it has some notable shortcomings. For the most part, Lauper's lyrics are severely lacking (as evidenced by the aforementioned "Everybody Say Yeah" number). These faults are compounded by Harvey Fierstein's book, which has no subtlety, and throws in some out-of-character dynamic shifts in the middle of the second act. (It's bad enough that some of the characters are transphobic; was it really necessary to make Charlie, a previously open-minded character, suddenly homophobic too?)

But somehow these flaws don't detract from the immediate experience of Kinky Boots. The show is like cotton candy — it's fun to eat, but it disintegrates as soon it touches your tongue, leaving you with happy memories and a mouth full of cavities. Does all art need to have nutritive value for the soul? That's up to you to decide, but in the meantime, what's the harm in having some fun?

Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd; through Nov. 30. (800) 982-2787 HollywoodPantages.com.


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