By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
Kinky Boots, based on the 2005 British film of the same name, might be why the word “fabulous” was invented. This is Big Broadway in the Best Way: a splashy, bouncy, smart show (book by Harvey Fierstein) with a heart and a message and beltable songs (music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper) and hilarious production numbers (choreographed by Jerry Mitchell who also directs). And costumes! Big Costumes (Gregg Barnes). Kinky Boots is a show about love and shoes, proving, among much else, that the foot wants what the foot wants.
The plot: Charlie (Stark Sands), heir to an old-fashioned, English, small-town factory that has made the same durable brogues for a century, is broke. Lola (Billy Porter), a drag queen with a troupe of drag angels, steps into the picture with a solution: manufacture for an underserved niche market, fancy boots with six-inch heels, big and strong enough for men. His ambitious fiancé (Celilna Carvajal) is left to her London career, Charlie finds the girl for him right beside him (Annaleigh Ashford), and everybody goes to Milan to walk the runway.
Fierstein gives us Oscar Wilde’s advice as the plot’s center: “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” Kinky Boots is a show about tolerance and self-acceptance, and knockout performer Billy Porter, who delivers lines in a swishy growl much like Fierstein’s voice, is an excellent teacher of the lesson. Just as the delectable Annaleigh Ashford gets Lauper’s cheerful weirdness and eccentric trick voice, especially in her solo, “The History of Wrong Guys.” The songs are narrative rather than just repetitious, and they’re true to Lauper’s rocker roots and filled with clever, surprising rhymes.
Stark Sands is the modest, honest, straight and straightforward balance to all this glitter and glamour, delivering “The Soul of a Man” with passion (although his singing always slips into a very American twang). Lola and Charlie share the stage for what is really the show’s moving theme song, “I’m Not My Father’s Son.” And the Act One exuberant curtain number, “Everybody Say Yeah,” sends the audience into intermission with genuine, grinning joy.
Lola’s comment, “you’re never more than ten steps away from a cross-dresser” made the trip home much more interesting than it usually is.
Al Hirschfeld Theate, 302 W. 45th St., NY. Tickets $57-137. Information: www.telecharge.com or 800-432-7250