Saturday, April 20, 2013

Kinky Boots: Tuesdays with Lola

With the up-with-drag-queens pep, colorful costumes, and indefatigable spirit, Kinky Boots can't be faulted for not trying. Really frickin' hard.  But with songs that run out of lyrics and an over dependence on said drag queens to give the show energy, I never quite fell for the cast who are just working overtime to telegraph their likability.

Charlie (Stark Sands) is from a small Northern English town and is son of the local shoe factory owner.  Charlie moves to London with his climber fiancée Nicola (Celina Carvajal) but is almost immediately pulled back to his hometown when his father dies. He needs a way to save his family shoe business and a chance encounter with drag queen Lola (Billy Porter) inspires him to make kinky boots for the drag market. He is assisted by Lauren (Annaleigh Ashford) one of the factory workers who discovers after all these years she has a crush on him.  They have a few weeks to design a new show line, with Lola's help and debut it at a fashion show in Milan.

Between the moments about trying to live up to dead fathers expectations, and Stark Sands sad eyes, you really need some upbeat drag queen numbers just to balance the downers with with uppers.  I just found the life lessons about tolerance in Harvey Fierstein's book were laid on far too thick. 

I was reminded of an old Daniel Kitson joke where he says he hates protestations of liberalism on internet profiles: "If on your internet profile you feel it necessary to point out in fairly clumsy language you think bigotry is bad thing.  You're not a massively interesting person. Wouldn't it be better if you could just assume most right people thinking didn't like bigotry too much.  Rather than feeling it necessary to introduce ourselves to people with every bad thing we're not.  Hello my name is Daniel, I think bigotry is bad and I've never even raped anyone. So that's me. That's me in a nutshell!" 

Somehow Kinky Boots falls into that trap and telling us over and over again that bigotry is a bad thing just gets boring.  There is a breakdown in tolerance in Act II that is patently artificial and feels like it is shoehorned in so there can even be a second act.  It creates "tension" and a separation only to be naturally followed by a reunion.  If I was into the characters or their plight, maybe I would forgive the sledgehammer of tolerance but I was barely clinging on to caring.

Jerry Mitchell choreographs and directs and it is impossible not to enjoy the drag queens on a conveyor belt showstopper. The music and lyrics are from Broadway neophyte Cyndi Lauper.  Standing on their own the ballads were heartfelt and pretty, but there were far too many and they did not add much to the story, characters or show.  Certainly the drag numbers are peppy and they give the show its momentum, but it's a false sense of one.  Don't these drag queens have day jobs? 

The reason Annaleigh Ashford's solo number sticks out for me is that she's the only character with character. Some might find she too is overdoing it but I got a kick out of her knowing wink to the audience and only wished for a little more humor in the show.  I don't really get Billy Porter.  On paper, he seems to be playing the "idea" of a character you are supposed to like, but he's not actually a character you like.  Lola can be a drag and I did not find him charismatic.  I kind of spent the whole show hoping Douglas Hodge as Albin would come and save me.  I guess there is one Broadway drag queen show close to my heart and this did not displace it.

In the end Kinky Boots is without any kink.  It's your typical Broadway tourist fare.  Harmless, safe and predictable.  Satisfying if that's your kind of show.  But I wanted more.
 

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