Kinky Boots Kicks It In Chicago
On its way to Broadway, the production brings its brilliance here first
Stark Sands and Billy Porter pose on the set of Kinky Boots, the Broadway-bound show that's scheduled to run through November 4 at Bank of America Theatre.
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KINKY BOOTS is a combustible, energizing attraction that’s awash in brilliant color and beautiful music, and it delivers an all-around entertainment experience that sends theatergoers home with a smile on their faces and joyous thoughts about a production that can move you from laughter to tears.
From the memorable music to the slick choreography to the inspiring and compelling storyline, the Broadway-bound production is a perfect combination of drama, comedy and heartwarming moments, but a poignant and powerful message about tolerance that’s tightly woven into the show’s fabric is not lost in the midst of the glitz, dancing and humor.
The musical, which will run at the Bank of America Theatre through November 4, is based on a true story and the British film about Charlie Price (played by Stark Sands), who has hopes of becoming a marketing executive, but his career path is thrown off course when his father dies suddenly and he has to try to save the family’s failing boot factory, which, in the process, will save the jobs of people he has known all of his life. To save the Northern England factory, Charlie needs the assistance of the most improbable person to help in the form of a drag queen named Lola (Billy Porter), who encourages Charlie to ditch the traditional footwear and focus on brightly colored, over-the-knee, stiletto-heel boots that could support the weight of a man. In making the transition, the two not only save the factory but step out from their fathers’ shadows and come to a stronger understanding about the power of human relationships.
The show is anchored by co-stars Sands and Porter, but a superb, wide-ranging cast––including Annaleigh Ashford, Celina Carvajal, Daniel Stewart Sherman and “Lola’s Angels”––come together to take the crowd on a roller-coaster ride of emotions that leaves observers on their feet at the end. But it’s Sands and Porter who are in the spotlight. The Dallas-born Sands, who received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of Southern California, is a likable, convincing, entertaining actor who starred on Broadway in American Idiot and received a Tony Award nomination for his work in Journey’s End. Porter, born in Pittsburgh and a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama, began a career as a pop vocalist after much-talked-about efforts on Broadway that include Miss Saigon, Five Guys Named Moe, Grease, Smokey Joe’s Café and Dreamgirls.
On stage, Porter is a kinetic, dynamic and commanding showstopper who can dominate a production with his combination of acting, singing and dancing. In reference to his portrayal as Lola, Sands' character––referring to Lola’s personality and flamboyance––says, “There’s a gaping hole when you leave the room.” Audiences agree, missing Porter's multifaceted skills when he is not on stage in his role as Lola or as his male persona Simon.
That vast array of talent in the cast is complemented by the production’s impressive creative team of Cyndi Lauper, Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Mitchell, who combined their efforts to produce a show that already has people wondering and talking about the impact Kinky Boots will have when it’s time for the Tony Awards to be presented. “It’s a little story with a big heart. These guys [Charlie and Lola] thought outside the box. When you hit a brick wall, you go around it,” says Grammy Award-winning icon Lauper, who is best known for her songs “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” and “Time After Time.” “It’s a great story because they succeeded. But I think the best thing about the story is [the importance of] changing one’s mind. A line from the show says, ‘You change the world when you change your mind.’” And her feelings about delivering her first Broadway score as the show’s composer-lyricist? “I’ve never been around the block before with this so it’s wonderful to be walking through it with Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Mitchell. I couldn’t ask for a better team,” she says. “I was very lucky.”
The powerful creative team for Kinky Boots includes (left to right) Tony Award-winning director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell, writer and Tony Award-winning actor Harvey Fierstein, and Grammy Award-winning recording artist Cyndi Lauper, who is the play's composer and lyricist.
Fierstein, a Tony Award-winning actor who wrote the Kinky Boots play and other such musicals as La Cage Aux Folles and Newsies, has a history of writing projects that feature drag queens. “I like drag queens,” he says. “They are very theatrical. They walk on stage and you say, ‘Okay, we’re going to party now!’” The writer of Torch Song Trilogy also says he and Lauper have known each other for many years and always wanted to work together to create a show, but they never had the opportunity until Kinky Boots. “I’ve always felt that she is a very underrated artist, and I think this will show people what her composing talents are.”
Lauper and Fierstein were no strangers to Mitchell, who took the reins as the play’s director-choreographer. The Paw Paw, Mich., native grew up as a choirboy and started his career in choreography as an associate to legendary stage director Michael Bennett for the musical Scandal. Later, he choreographed such shows as The Full Monty, Hairspray, The Rocky Horror Show, Jekyll and Hyde, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and La Cage aux Folles, which earned him a Tony Award. He also choreographed and directed the musical Legally Blonde.
Although Kinky Boots is on its way to Broadway in April, there is one major reason that the musical landed here for its world premiere––to get some momentum and to get theater-knowledgeable people to start talking about the production. “This is a beautiful city that loves culture. There’s so much culture here in theater and art and architecture,” Lauper says. “This city is it.”
For tickets or information about Kinky Boots at Bank of America Theatre, call 800/775-2000 or go to www.BroadwayInChicago.com .