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Sound Advice Reviews

Kinky Boots


Masterworks Broadway

So, here we are with Kinky Boots with all its sparkle and sassy attitudes. Dig in your heels to resist and say it's not much more than a well-done high-budget piece of force-fed fluff and pop puffery, or kick back and accept it as fine fun at best and a guilty pleasure at least. Accept it for its open-hearted, inclusive life-affirmingness, frequent feel-good bursts of joy and youthful angst and occasional searing catharses and you'll find its true colors of good intentions and a sweetness shining through.

Splashy and earnest, with his fearless show-stopping vocal divo dynamism and command, Billy Porter has star power to fuel a few fires. Stark Sands is disarming from the get-go as Charlie, the more underplayed, understated good guy with a heart. Some early numbers are especially likeable and light. Cyndi Lauper wrote the score and shows here (as she has in her past efforts) that she can turn in a nicely-turned phrase with clear language and some cleverness. Her melodies can soar or simmer. But, too often, the material feels glib and transparently intended to push buttons over and over. For some, there will be a heart beating sincerely. For others, it's just a dance-floor-ready bass line and rhythm track. Don't look for too much depth. But if you wanna have fun, there's plenty of feel-good fun to join in on.

The finale may wear you down at six minutes of playing time. The power-packed churchy "Raise You Up" leads into "Just Be" with its messages of self-acceptance and empowerment ("Never let 'em tell you who you ought to be/ Just be/ With dignity/ Celebrate yourself triumphantly"). It's a ready-made anthem for anyone who's been shut out or told to shut up. Listen carefully and you'll hear a chorus warming up to sing it at this month's Gay Pride events, no doubt. But isn't there a difference between a song hitting home and hitting you over the head?

The 12-person orchestra puts a professional gloss and theatricality into the score, with electronics/synthesizers filling out the sound in that "canned" way. But there's some great juiciness to the accompaniment and a real pulse throughout.

I'll be the first in line to gripe about the truth that false rhymes lower the bar and cheapen the charm of an otherwise well-crafted number; Lauper "rhymes" the phrase "beginning of time" with "mine," plus "allure" and "ignore," "Chapter One" with "He's a bum," "three" with "sleaze"—and that's all in the same song ("The History of Wrong Guys"), which is otherwise delightfully endearing, especially as performed with pluck here by Annaleigh Ashford. In another piece, "Not My Father's Son," we're asked to accept "him"/"skin" and "down"/"around" which mar an otherwise thoughtful, mature piece. Its bare-bones instrumental beginning with a single-chord accompaniment repeated like Chinese water torture, telegraphs that it's time for a Very Serious Song. In several "up" numbers, the energy and beat may often be pumped up, but—spunky or funky—that energy is generally joyful and contagious. In a few, like "Everybody Say Yeah," the relentless beat and repetition ("What a man!" and the ubiquitous "yeah") can wear. Once again, however, the brio and bubbly energy of the cast and the playful winks go a long way towards compensation.

The Boots are made for walking into the sunshine of good times—and maybe walking away with one or more Tony awards on Sunday. The cast album is a pick-me-up, even if you are the type who has to be dragged up to cheer and be cheered.

- Rob Lester

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