Theatre: ‘Kinky Boots’ Needs More Recognition

Promotional image of Todrick Hall as Lola surrounded by the Angels in Broadway’s ‘Kinky Boots’ created by Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein.

Hi! It’s Annie!

For the most part, ‘Kinky Boots’ is a popular Broadway show. It’s well known to the point that people would recognize the name. But the content of the show itself isn’t generally known and, for some reason, the popularity of the show seems to have faded over time. The peak of it’s popularity came when Brendon Urie, the front-man of ‘Panic! at the Disco’ was cast for a limited time as one of the two leads, Charlie. But the occasional celebrity castings isn’t what really made this musical so special. ‘Kinky Boots’ is a revelation in both music and plot. It tackles the issue of acceptance and boasts songs created by the eighties icon Cyndi Lauper to push forward it’s plot. I would argue that this is one of the most influential musicals of all time. So come and take my hand and welcome to the land of Lola.

Kinky Boots (the movie):

The musical of Kinky Boots is based off of the movie of the same name, which was actually based off of true events. When an owner of a family-owned shoe company faced closure for producing pretty generic and expensive men’s shoes, he saved his business by going into a more niche shoe market. Creating shoes that were traditionally worn by women that would be comfortable for men as well. This, of course, included booted heels. Though the original film did feature a similar heartwarming message and a few big names, the film didn’t really do well at the box office. Fortunately, the creators of the Broadway musical saw the heart in it and saw a way to make it better. Of course, it’s still fun to watch Chiwetel Ejiofor deliver a shouted monologue about the significance of the color red before his career really took off.

Cyndi Lauper:

This was Cyndi Lauper’s first time writing for a musical, and it doesn’t show at all. Try watching the musical and then getting ‘Land of Lola’ out of your head. You can’t. Though she definitely knocked it out of the park with her more playful numbers for the show, both she and Harvey Fierstein, a drag queen himself, believed that the key to this show was Charlie and Lola relating to each other over their rocky relationships with their fathers. Lauper said that these were the songs that she created to have the most heart in them. This is where the musical differs the most from the original movie. While the original story focused mostly on saving the factory, the music Lauper wrote and the story Fierstein created was much more character driven. Lauper ended up winning at the Tony’s for best score and became the first woman to win the award without a male writing partner (Anais Mitchell is the second). Though the show actually won six Tonys, it’s main competition was ‘Matilda’ which did not do overly well with critics. ‘Kinky Boots’ was the “obvious” choice, which for some reason means that many people don’t think it would stand up against some of the shows that won “harder earned” awards.

The Characters and Casting:

The show focuses on Charlie, a man who takes over his father’s shoe company after his father suddenly dies, and Lola, a drag queen who gives Charlie the idea of the shoes and makes the idea work in every possible way. The standout for most people when they see this show is Lola. Lola comes off as confident, bright, and flashy but also suffers from just as much self image issues as Charlie. Lola’s father never approved, and this makes Lola both relatable and unbelievably eye-catching. It’s difficult for your eye to be drawn to any other character while on stage because of the character’s warmth. And I think it’s incredibly important that this integral role to the plot is generally played by a black gay man. With the media being so whitewashed now, it’s important to put the spotlight on people who we needlessly cast aside before. My favorite casting for the role of Lola, as you could probably tell, is Todrick Hall. If you haven’t checked out his work, he is a talented and hilarious musician who has worked tirelessly to make drag queens accepted by society. Lola in the musical requests of someone that they accept someone else for who they are, and Todrick Hall embodies this as a person and then some. Also, his rendition of ‘Land of Lola’ is iconic and intimidatingly perfect.

The Message:

There is no musical about acceptance as fun as this one. Not only does the message hit you in a heartwarming way, but the musical doesn’t end sadly. We need to stop killing off so many gay men in musicals. A happy ending is something that not all people need or want in a musical, but has always been something that I appreciate. But the message isn’t just stuck on one character. The musical features two stories of people who were not accepted by their families as well as others who struggle in life based off of assumptions others have made about them. This story has always had the potential to be about more than the factory and this musical accomplishes that deeper message while also having this incredible sense of warmth. Like I said, having a happy ending isn’t important but it’s something that makes the musical very watchable at depressing times such as what we’re living through. It also makes quite a few really important points about masculinity and femininity such as in the song “What a Woman Wants”. When Lola asks the women in the factory what they would want in a man they say things like affection, sensitivity, and compassion. Traits that Lola points out are traditionally feminine traits. This is used to combat a man saying that women want things like muscles and masculinity. It’s a fun musical but it is not without things to think about.

‘Kinky Boots’ is everything that you might want in a musical. It is warmth, it is fun, and it is used to teach important lessons. The musical also contributed significantly to the diversity we are just beginning to see become more widespread in the theatre community. It wasn’t just ‘Hamilton’ that contributed to that, though that musical’s contributions should not be diminished either. ‘Kinky Boots’ often gets overlooked for musicals people believe to be more profound, but it is one of the best and most important musicals in recent Broadway history. We really need to stop overlooking it for other musicals and see it for the brilliance that it is.

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

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