The curtain rises on a small British shoemaking factory filled with workers happily singing about “the most beautiful thing in the world” — shoes. A bit of skepticism is probably not uncalled for. Unless you’re a Prada enthusiast, shoes may seem like a dull subject for a musical. But as the audience soon finds out, this will not be a musical about just any shoes. This will be a musical — and a lively, energetic and enjoyable one at that — about “Kinky Boots.”
With music and lyrics by ’80s pop star Cyndi Lauper and a book by Broadway favorite Harvey Fierstein, “Boots,” based on the movie of the same name, is about Charlie (Stark Sands), a young man forced to take over the family shoemaking business after his father’s unexpected death. Charlie finds the business in serious financial trouble.
After literally running into Lola (Billy Porter), a loud and feisty drag queen, Charlie decides to make a new kind of shoe for a new demographic — women’s shoes that can comfortably fit and support grown men. He and Lola rally the workers in preparation for fashion week in Milan, Italy.
Does it sound silly? Absolutely. But with a team like Lauper and Fierstein, that should be expected and embraced. At the sole, pun intended, of this musical is an incredibly touching story about family, love and acceptance. Lauper’s music is equal parts catchy and inspiring — for each up-tempo dance number, the best of which is the act one finale “Everybody Say Yeah,” there is a similarly impressive ballad. With direction and choreography by Jerry Mitchell, the story and the cast are in good hands.
The cast of “Boots” is led by the wonderful Stark Sands as the confused and yearning Charlie. His voice is perhaps best suited to Lauper’s pop-rock style. Billy Porter is dazzling as Lola — he can move the audience to tears of laughter just as quickly as to tears of sorrow.
Annaleigh Ashford, who is bright and invigorating as always, plays Charlie’s love interest, Lauren, the girl who acts as his main motivation throughout the show. Despite a small role, her sudden realization of her love for Charlie, “The History of Wrong Guys,” is hysterical. These three front the ensemble of blue-collar workers and drag queens that makes up the heart of the musical.
Underneath the feathers and glitter, of which there is plenty, “Kinky Boots” is ultimately about acceptance — of your friends, your family and even people you hardly know. It shows us how we should treat one another, even as it remains a fun and exciting show that reminds us if we accept others for who they are and they do the same for us, the world will be a better, happier place.
“Kinky Boots” is now playing at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, April 24 print edition. Dylan Jarrett is a staff writer. Email her at [email protected]