'Kinky Boots' review: Feel-good musical

Stark Sands, Billy Porter, The Angels (L-R: Kyle

Stark Sands, Billy Porter, The Angels (L-R: Kyle Taylor Parker, Charlie Sutton, Joey Taranto, Kevin Smith Kirkwood, Paul Canaan, and Kyle Post), and cast in "Kinky Boots," musical by Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein on Broadway. (March 2013) (Credit: Matthew Murphy)

Dissertations will surely be written about how, in the three decades since "La Cage aux Folles," drag-queen musicals became their own feel-good genre on Broadway.

Filling the niche with cheer and fine craftsmanship now is "Kinky Boots." Fittingly, this is the nonthreatening, crowd-pleasing adaptation of the 2005 movie about a shoe factory saved by niche-manufacturing stiletto boots for what characters (with dubious Brit accents) call "men in frocks."

But there is also news in this entirely predictable, tenderly unassuming extravaganza, written by Harvey Fierstein ("La Cage") and directed by Jerry Mitchell ("Legally Blonde") with almost scene-by-scene, line-by-line fidelity to the film. That news -- and it is very good indeed -- is Cyndi Lauper, who makes a smashing Broadway debut as composer and lyricist.

Stark Sands is engagingly conflicted as Charlie Price, saddled in the provinces with a failing old-world family business that his late father expected him to run. (The sadly elegant Victorian factory is beautifully designed by David Rockwell.) While in London with his hyper-ambitious fiancee, Charlie happens on Lola -- also called Simon -- a bruiser of a drag queen whose women's thigh-high, sky-high boots are not strong enough to support men.

Billy Porter, as Lola/Simon, switches impressively between his character's two formidable selves, every so often even imitating Fierstein's Beelzebub basso, measuring out the outrage and the outrageous with masterly command. He and Charlie, naturally, share standard-issue father issues.

Lauper, unlike many recent theatrical pop-crossovers, changes her sounds to illuminate each character without losing her identity. From the sexy-shoe disco to the I-will-survive finale, she somehow retains that Lauper she-bop voice with the delicate rhythmic underpinnings and a wicked yet humane humor as true and original as Fierstein's.

Gregg Barnes' costumes revel in the ridiculousness of the giant chorus girls, while respecting the struggling workers. And, though this really isn't a show about the women, the breakout performance is by Annaleigh Ashford as the factory worker smitten with Charlie. She quietly starts the brutally adorable "History of Wrong Guys" with little girlie hisses and horrified peeps before launching into the horror of falling for her boss.

Lauper and Fierstein are never onstage, but their spirits elevate a very conventional show with wit and sweetness.


WHAT "Kinky Boots"

WHERE Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 W. 45th St., Manhattan

INFO $57-$137; 212-239-6200; kinkybootsthemusical.com

BOTTOM LINE Conventional show, big heart and a breakthrough Broadway debut by composer-lyricist Lauper

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