Kinky Boots (musical)
Chicago preview promotional poster
|Basis||2005 film Kinky Boots|
2014 US Tour
|Awards||Tony Award for Best Musical
Tony Award for Best Original Score
Kinky Boots is a musical with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein. Based on the 2005 film Kinky Boots, which was inspired by a true story, the musical tells of a struggling British shoe factory's young, straitlaced owner, Charlie, who forms an unlikely partnership with Lola, a drag queen, to save the business. Charlie develops a plan to produce custom fetish-type footwear for drag artists, rather than the men's dress shoes that his firm is known for, and in the process, he and Lola discover that they are not so different after all.
Following the show's conception in 2006, the creative team was assembled by 2010. The original production of Kinky Boots premiered at the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago in October 2012, with both direction and choreography by Jerry Mitchell, and starring Stark Sands and Billy Porter as Charlie and Lola, respectively. It made its Broadway debut at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on April 4, 2013 following previews that began on March 3, 2013. The musical is expected to begin a US tour in 2014.
Having been less well received by theatre critics and at the box office than another 2013 Broadway production, Matilda the Musical, Kinky Boots entered the 2013 awards season as the underdog but won more major awards and enjoyed a post-Tony boost in popular demand. The production earned a season-high 13 nominations and 6 Tony wins, including Best Musical and Best Score for Lauper in her first outing as a Broadway songwriter, making her the first woman to win alone in that category. The musical's cast album premiered at number one on the Billboard Cast Albums Chart and number fifty-one on the Billboard 200 chart.
Background and creation
Kinky Boots is based on the 2005 British film of the same name, which was, in turn, inspired by a 1999 episode of the BBC2 documentary television series Trouble at the Top. It followed the true story of Steve Pateman, who was struggling to save his family-run shoe factory from closure and decided to produce fetish footwear for men, under the brand name "Divine Footwear". Producer Daryl Roth saw the film at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival and fell in love with its "heart and soul". She felt that its themes resonated and thought that the story had potential as source material for a musical. Within a year, she secured the rights to adapt the film to the stage and partnered with Hal Luftig.
By mid-2008, the producers were in discussions with a potential director, Jerry Mitchell, but they still had not found writers. When Roth sent Mitchell the DVD of the film, he was enthusiastic about it. Roth hired Mitchell to direct and Harvey Fierstein to write the book. Mitchell knew that Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper were friends, and he thought they would make a good team to create the musical. Fierstein agreed and eventually approached Lauper to write the songs because he "saw in the adaptation an opportunity to work with someone with a big musical range, 'somebody who could write club music,' ... along with show tunes." Lauper joined the creative team in June 2010. Lauper's last project before Kinky Boots had been the album Memphis Blues, while Fierstein was working on Newsies when he began Kinky Boots. The work marked Lauper's debut as a musical theatre songwriter, although she had some theatrical experience, having performed on Broadway in the 2006 Roundabout Theatre Company production of The Threepenny Opera. Among Fierstein's prior experiences were works about drag queens: La Cage aux Folles and Torch Song Trilogy. Lauper has said that she identifies with drag queens.
Fierstein and Lauper had both gained previous critical acclaim and honors in their respective fields. Fierstein had won four Tonys: acting and writing awards for Torch Song Trilogy, an acting Tony for Hairspray, and one for writing the book of La Cage; Lauper is a chart-topping singer-songwriter and actress who had won Grammy, Emmy and many other awards for her songs and performances. Fierstein noted a change in focus between the film "about the saving of a factory" and the musical, which include "drag queens singing as they pass along the assembly line." He said the main difference is that the musical is, "at its core, about two young men who come from seemingly opposite worlds who figure out that they have a lot in common, beginning with the need to stand up to their dads." Lauper's inspirations ranged from listening as a child to her parents' recordings of South Pacific and West Side Story, as well as musical inspirations as diverse as Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring" and pop singer Lana Del Rey.
Kinky Boots was given a reading on October 6, 2011. Lauper was actively engaged in refining the material once the cast began readings. In January 2012, producer Daryl Roth announced that the show would be workshopped that month, and that Stark Sands and Billy Porter had been cast in the starring roles.
- Act I
Charlie Price grows up as the fourth-generation "son" in his family business, "Price and Son", a shoe factory in the English Midlands. Simon also grows up in the Midlands in a black family, but the lad's strict father is puzzled by the boy's interest in dancing and his mother's red high-heeled shoes. Charlie's father is aging and hopes that Charlie will take over the factory, but Charlie is eager to move to London with his status-conscious fiancée, Nicola. When his father dies suddenly, Charlie hurries home for the funeral, where he finds the factory near bankruptcy amidst hard economic times. The factory makes good quality men's shoes, but they are not stylish, and the market for them is drying up. Good-hearted Charlie cannot imagine how to save the business. He wants to close the factory, but he also wants to save the workers' jobs. The workers don't understand why Charlie had moved away in the first place, and some of them see Charlie as spoiled.
In London, Charlie is inadvertently involved in a street altercation, which leads him to meet a drag performer, Lola, whose birth name is Simon, and her backup troupe of drag dancers, the "angels". Charlie notices that the performers' high-heeled boots are not designed to hold a man's weight, but Lola explains that the expensive and unreliable footwear is an essential part of any drag act. In fact, Lola says, there are more drag queens than one would suspect, all yearning for sturdier high-heeled footwear. Back in the Midlands, Lauren, who works in the factory, has developed a crush on Charlie. She suggests that other struggling shoe factories have survived by entering an "under served niche market". This gives Charlie an idea, and he invites Lola to come to the factory to show him exactly what kind of boots she craves. Lola and the angels arrive to help Charlie and his workers update their style sense. Charlie begs Lola to stay for "only three weeks", until the prestigious Milan footwear show, to design a new line of "kinky boots" that could save the factory. Lola reluctantly agrees. Nicola is angry and bewildered that Charlie will not sell the factory and return to London to marry her and live the good life.
- Act II
Many of the factory workers are not enthusiastic about the radical change in their product line. Some of them, especially the intimidating Don, make Lola feel very unwelcome. Lola presents Don with a unique wager to see who is the better "man": Lola will do any one thing that Don specifies if Don will do one thing that Lola specifies. Don's challenge is for Lola to fight him in a boxing match at the pub. Lola challenges Don to "accept one person for themselves". It turns out that Lola/Simon has had extensive boxing lessons as a youth, and even a short boxing career. Lola easily scores against Don in the ring but ultimately lets Don win the match. Afterwards, in private, Don asks why, and Lola replies that she could not be so cruel as to humiliate Don in front of his mates.
Some of the factory workers have been dragging their heels on executing the new designs, and Charlie is getting frantic that he will not be ready for the Milan show. Lola has been making some decisions about production and preparations without consulting Charlie, and, in frustration, Charlie insults Lola and the factory workers. Lola storms off, saying "we're done!", and the factory workers go home. To make matters worse, Nicola finally leaves Charlie, who is despondent; it looks like he will have to sell the factory after all. Lauren finds Charlie and tells him to come back to the factory. It seems that Don has persuaded all the workers to return to work and to up their game. Charlie is astonished and grateful. He asks if Don has paid up on his wager with Lola by accepting Lola. Lauren explains that, no, the person that Don has accepted ... is Charlie!
It is a sprint to get ready for Milan. Charlie feels terrible about the things he said to Lola at the factory. Many of the decisions that Lola had made were just right, and Charlie realizes that he was foolish. He knows that it will be more difficult to sell the boots to the buyers in Milan without Lola and her angels. Meanwhile, Lola finds her father, who had never accepted her, dying in a nursing home, and reaches some sense of closure. Charlie and Lauren leave for Milan. Just as the footwear show starts, Lola arrives to save the day, and the whole company celebrates the success of the "kinky boots" product line. Lauren and Charlie share their first kiss.
In Lauper's first effort at writing for the stage, she found that it required a sustained effort to write songs for the different characters. Lauper joked about the difficulty of writing her first score: "How much of a stretch is it for me to write songs about fashion, funny relationships, people changing their minds and shoes?" The first song that Lauper wrote was the opening number, which included a wide range of voices. Her process was to conceive a song and sing it into her iPhone, and orchestrator Stephen Oremus would write it down. Oremus would then "'blow up' the vocal line into harmonies, create the incidental music that linked scenes and songs" and orchestrate the material. The songs range in style "from pop to funk to new wave to tango, with highly personal lyrics". New York Times critic Melena Ryzik wrote: "Though there are plenty of hooky, rousing numbers, the emotional heart of Kinky Boots is several ballads about the weight of parental expectations." The musical uses a twelve-piece orchestra consisting of keyboards, percussion, bass, guitars, reeds, violin, viola, cello, trumpet, and trombone.
- ‡Song not included on original Broadway cast album.
Principal roles and original cast
|Character||Original Broadway cast|
|Charlie Price||Stark Sands|
|Mr. Price||Stephen Berger|
|Simon Sr.||Eugene Barry-Hill|
|Richard Bailey||John Jeffrey Martin|
|Milan Stage Manager||Adinah Alexander|
|Young Charlie||Sebastian Hedges Thomas|
|Young Simon||Marquise Neal|
Chicago and Broadway
On February 6, the Chicago Tribune reported that Kinky Boots' producers were considering taking advantage of an incentive program from the State of Illinois for out-of-town tryouts for Broadway shows. The October 2012 pre-Broadway Chicago tryout was announced on February 22, 2012. On June 28, 2012 the full Chicago cast was announced. The production was rehearsed at the New 42nd Street Studios in New York City in September 2012. The show began its pre-Broadway run at the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago, on October 2, 2012, which continued until November 4, 2012. The show was directed and choreographed by Mitchell; scenic design was by David Rockwell, costumes by Gregg Barnes, lighting by Kenneth Posner and sound by John Shivers. The music director and orchestrator was Stephen Oremus. The director and design team had gained previous critical acclaim and theatre or music awards. Mitchell had won a Tony Award for choreographing the 2005 revival of La Cage aux Folles; Barnes and Posner had won Tonys; and Rockwell had been nominated for Tonys and other theatre awards.
Mitchell and Rockwell had previously collaborated on Hairspray, Catch Me If You Can and Legally Blonde. Mitchell told The New York Times that the "Everybody Say Yeah" scene, in which the cast celebrates the creation of the first pair of Kinky Boots with a choreographed celebration on conveyor belts, required repeated innovations and adjustments like the eventual addition of safety rails and actor controls for the apparatus. Designer Derek McLane commented that it is not uncommon for repeat choreographer/set designer collaborations to result in intriguing innovation like the conveyor belt dance scene in Kinky Boots. McLane was impressed with the "mounted a series of conveyor belts that came apart, moved around, and fit the context of the story." in order to accentuate the choreography of "a troupe of men in four-inch heels". With respect to the conveyor belts, he said, "They've never been used as dynamically as this, creating a series of surprises, with the kind of wild athleticism that actually looks dangerous. It's one of the more thrilling combinations of stage design and choreography that I can recall."
After the tryout, the team went back to work, adding a new musical number for Charlie and a second song in the drag club, removing another song, and revising the book. The Broadway debut started previews on March 3, 2013 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, with the official opening on April 4, 2013. Both the Chicago and original Broadway casts starred Billy Porter as Lola, Stark Sands as Charlie and Annaleigh Ashford as Lauren. Porter, in particular, was singled out for critical praise.
The New York Times noted that in the 2012–13 season, most of the new Broadway musicals were "inspired by movies or books". The paper found the show timely for its treatment of problems that paralleled those at the time of its production, including "chronic unemployment, financial distress and the collapse of manufacturing". Prior to the June 9, 2013 Tony Awards, Kinky Boots had trailed its box office competitor, Matilda the Musical, in sales. Kinky Boots won a season-high six Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The next day, the show sold $1.25 million tickets, and its advance ticket sales for future dates became a hot commodity. In the weeks following its Tony wins, the show became so popular that in the beginning of July a special ticket lottery system was created to keep fans from camping outside the theatre. On October 3, 2013, the show announced that it had recouped its initial investment of $13.5 million, 30 weeks after it began its Broadway run. At that time, Kinky Boots had the second highest premium-price tickets on Broadway behind only The Book of Mormon. As of 17 November 2013[update], the show had grossed nearly $52 million.
A US national tour is planned to begin at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas during September 2014. No other tour destinations have been announced. On November 28, members of the cast performed the finale of the show in the nationally televised Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Many viewers commented that, in their opinion, the performance was inappropriate for a family program.
Upon its October 2012 Chicago opening, Chicago Tribune critic Chris Jones described the show as a "warm, likable, brassy, sentimental, big-hearted and modestly scaled" production. Another reviewer praised the score, book, direction and, particularly, Porter, before suggesting that, before opening on Broadway, it could use a more effective opening number, better pacing in Act 2 and "the budding romance between Charlie and coworker Lauren ... needs more lead-in. In other words, give Ashford, a clear crowd favorite, more to do".
The musical's Broadway debut received mixed reviews, with Los Angeles Times theater critic Charles McNulty criticising Lauper's "novice mistakes" with a score that "never establishes a compositional through line" and saying that while "Fierstein's heart is in the right place ... the show's earnestness sinks it", adding that "if [the show] weren't such a cheesy commercial mess, it might actually be fun". Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News wrote that while the "script has issues like a pair of shoes" that don't quite fit, "Mitchell's production moves lickety-split" and "Porter ... is a force of nature as Lola." But, he added, Lauper's "multicolored, surprising and fun" score outshines the fancy footwear and proves to be the "real star of this show". Writing for The Guardian, David Cote noted that the decision to use American actors for an adaptation that maintained the Northampton setting resulted in a disconcerting inconsistency in terms of accents.
Ben Brantley of The New York Times gave a warm review, comparing the work to several other recent, successful, Broadway musicals: "Like The Full Monty (choreographed by Mr. Mitchell) and Billy Elliot the Musical, it is set in a hard-times British factory town, where jobs are in jeopardy and spirits need lifting. Like La Cage aux Folles and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, it presents drag queens as the show’s official spirit lifters. And like Hairspray, the musical this production most resembles in tone, Kinky Boots is about finding your passion, overcoming prejudice and transcending stereotypes." Brantley wrote that Lauper's "love- and heat-seeking score" wowed with her "trademark ... mix of sentimentality and eccentricity", and that the costumes and boots courtesy of Gregg Barnes made for "big red scene stealers". Brantley, however, did not extend his praise to Fierstein's script, writing that his "sticky, sermonizing side" comes through in the second half, where "all the clichés stand naked before you."
Awards and nominations
Early in the 2013 awards season, Kinky Boots did well, receiving Drama League Award nominations for Distinguished Production of a Musical and Distinguished Performance, for both Porter and Sands, and winning for Distinguished Production. The show received nine Outer Critics Circle Award nominations, winning three, including Outstanding New Broadway Musical, Outstanding New Score and Outstanding Actor in a Musical (Porter). The musical received only two Drama Desk Award nominations, however, and only one win: Porter for Outstanding Actor in a Musical.
Kinky Boots received a season-high 13 Tony Award nominations. Matilda, which The New York Times described as the "unalloyed critical hit" of the season, received 12 nominations, 11 of them in the same categories as Kinky Boots. In addition to its critical success, Matilda had won the Drama Desk Award for outstanding musical and had set a record by winning the most Olivier Awards in history. Nevertheless, Kinky Boots won a season-high six Tonys, including Best Musical, which the press described as an upset, and Lauper's win for Best Score made her the first woman to win alone in that category. The creative team are Americans, and reviewer David Cote, an American writing in The Guardian, judged that the show's win was a case of "the balance of love going to a homegrown American musical, Kinky Boots, over the British import Matilda." The other Tony wins were for best actor (Porter), sound design (Shivers), choreography (Mitchell) and orchestrations (Oremus). Fierstein, Sands, Ashford, Mitchell (as director) and the three other designers were all nominated but did not win.
A Broadway original cast album, produced by Lauper, Oremus and William Wittman was released on May 28, 2013. It premiered at number one on the Billboard Cast Albums Chart and number fifty-one on the Billboard 200 chart, making it the highest charting Broadway cast recording since The Book of Mormon's album was released two years earlier. Before the Chicago tryout, "Sex Is in the Heel" became the first Broadway song to reach the top 10 of the Billboard club charts in 25 years. "Land of Lola" was released as a dance remix by Wayne G. & LFB in June 2013. The album received a favorable review in Playbill from Steven Suskin.
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- Official website
- Kinky Boots at IBDb
- Kinky Boots at Playbill Vault
- Kinky Boots at Theater Mania
- Kinky Boots at Tony Awards.com