It’s easy to see why “Kinky Boots” nabbed the 2013 Tony Award for Best Musical. The rousing score by pop icon Cyndi Lauper, the lively choreography of the song and dance numbers, and the flashy costumes — including the impossibly glamorous boots of the title — all contribute to the show’s impressive spectacle.
But what elevates “Kinky Boots” to top-tier Broadway fare is the story behind all of the pizazz, a tender tale of two young men trying to escape the shadows of their fathers who end up forming an unlikely bond.
“Kinky Boots,” running through Sunday at the Saenger Theatre, is based on a true story and inspired by a 2005 film of the same name.
The show opens with young Charlie Price renouncing his role at the family’s floundering Northampton shoe factory and lighting out for London to make his own way in the world. When Charlie gets called back home after the death of his father, he commits to getting Price and Son back in the black and joins forces with a London drag queen named Lola to make sparkly, thigh-high, stiletto-heeled boots that are as durable as they are fetching.
The touring production stars Adam Kaplan and J. Harrison Ghee as Charlie and Lola. As leading men, the two actors do a fine job of carrying the show, but it’s Ghee who really commands the stage.
One of the musical’s highlights is Lola’s introduction. Tall, muscular, and dressed in a skimpy, shimmery red mini dress, Ghee belts out “Land of Lola,” a funky, R&B-inspired number, declaring “I am freedom, I’m constriction / A potpourri of contradiction.”
Lola becomes a force that Charlie must reckon with, an unenviable task that is reflected in the performances. Kaplan, like his character, is at times overwhelmed by Ghee’s Lola. In “Step One,” the song that kicks off Charlie’s attempt to save the company, Kaplan’s performance lacks conviction, but as Charlie finds his feet, so does Kaplan, particularly in Charlie’s redeeming musical number “Soul of a Man.”
The show is bolstered by strong supporting roles, including Aaron Walpole as Don, the burly factory worker who bristles at sharing the factory floor with a drag queen, and Tiffany Engen, the employee who falls for her boss. Engen’s big moment, “The History of Wrong Guys,” shows off her prowess as a physical comedian, as she delightfully goofs and mugs her way through the song.
While the show loses momentum during a couple of heartfelt ballads, the choreography of the big song and dance numbers quickly livens things up.
“Kinky Boots” is directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, who really puts on a show with the treadmill dancing (similar to OK Go’s viral music video for “Here It Goes Again”) during “Everybody Say Yeah” and the fashion show finale that features Lola and her drag queen back-up dancers showing off both their footwear and footwork.
With a book by Harvey Fierstein (“Torch Song Trilogy,” “La Cage aux Folles,”), “Kinky Boots” uncovers a real human drama that sometimes gets lost in big Broadway shows. Some of Fierstein’s “transvestite” jokes are still stuck in the ‘80s, but the show itself evolves into a moving piece of drama as Charlie and Lola begin to confront their differences and question their partnership.
Overall, the show’s wit and compassion render complicated characters that are worth rooting for.