Off-Broadway revival of ‘Kinky Boots’ dazzles at Stage 42

When it premiered on Broadway at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre in 2013, the blockbuster stage adaptation of Kinky Boots, with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, book by Harvey Fierstein, and direction and choreography by Jerry Mitchell, was nominated for thirteen Tony Awards, won six (including Best Musical and Best Score), and ran for six years. A new revival of the high energy, high camp, high-heeled hit (with a few updates in the script to reflect evolving awareness and nomenclature) is now playing in the more intimate Off-Broadway space of Stage 42, where every seat is a good one and the show is every bit as entertaining, uplifting, and important as it ever was.

Christian Douglas, Callum Francis, and the cast. Photo by Matthew Murphy/Murphy Made.

Based on the eponymous 2005 British Miramax film written by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth, the empowering feel-good narrative, inspired by real-life events, follows the story of the revitalization of a family-owned generations-old shoe factory in the struggling industrial town of Northampton, England, which is in imminent danger of bankruptcy and closure due to a dramatic decline in sales of its traditional, solidly constructed, high-priced men’s footwear. When Charlie, who had recently moved to London with his avaricious fiancée Nicola, receives word of the death of his father and his inheritance of the failing business, he returns home, discovers the financial plight it’s in, and gives his hard-working long-time employees two-weeks’ termination notice. But a chance encounter with the fabulous drag diva Lola leads to a partnership plan to create a new line of sparkling but sturdy stiletto-heeled boots for a niche market of cabaret trans-dressers that will not only save the factory, but also result in international exposure on the runways of Milan and impart momentous life-lessons on the value of love, support, understanding, and acceptance.

The company. Photo by Matthew Murphy/MurphyMade.

Needless to say, the artistic design of the show is paramount to the theme, and it never fails to dazzle. Costumes by Gregg Barnes, hair by Josh Marquette, and make-up by Darion Matthews bring all the glitter and glamour to Lola and her drag troupe of Angels and capture the high-end taste of the ambitious Nicola, in contrast to the run-of-the-mill work-a-day outfits of the laborers. Kenneth Posner’s character-defining mood-appropriate lighting shifts from the ordinary day- and night-time light of the workplace to the flashy and colorful illumination of the clubs and fashion show to dramatic spotlights on the featured singers. And the smartly conceived scenic design by David Rockwell fluidly transitions from factory to cabaret to runway and other locales with quick roll-ins and rotations that maintain the rapid-fire pace of the show.

The superb design is equaled by a stellar cast, led by Christian Douglas as Charlie and Callum Francis as Lola, that brings all the humor and heart of the story to the stage, along with powerhouse vocals on Lauper’s pop-rock score, backed by a small but powerful orchestra (Steve Cuevas, Sammy Merendino, Vivi Rama, Marc Malsegna, Keith Robinson, and conductor and music director Will Van Dyke), with music supervision, arrangements, and orchestrations by Stephen Oremus. Douglas captures the uncertainty of his character, not sure of where he wants to be, what he wants to do, or how to make it work, bonding with Lola over their strained relationships with their fathers (the poignant duet “I’m Not My Father’s Son”), lashing out at his employees and his new-found business partner and friend when the stress becomes overwhelming, then showing his sincere regret and concern for the people, not the money (in his stirring rendition of “The Soul of a Man”). Francis turns in a fully rounded and irresistible portrayal of the high-spirited Lola, unflinchingly outspoken and flamboyant (in her anthemic “The Land of Lola”), but also insightful (“What a Woman Wants”) and forgiving (“Hold Me in Your Heart”), with a profound sense of compassion that’s as big as her persona. And her shoes.

Callum Francis (center) and members of the cast. Photo by Matthew Murphy/MurphyMade.

In their featured roles, as Lola’s Angels, Nick Drake, Ian Gallagher Fitzgerald, Kevin Smith Kirkwood, Marty Lauter, Ricky Schroeder, and Tarion Strong have all the right flair, attitude, spot-on moves and harmonies, whether extolling the ebullient spirit of “The Land of Lola,” their taste in footwear (“Sex Is in the Heel”), or the new line of kinky boots (“Everybody Say Yeah”), while dancing, riding on the factory’s conveyor belts, or doing splits, flips, and high kicks in them, without ever once stumbling.

Also lending fine support are Brianna Stoute as Nicola, who has very different ideas and ideals than her soon-to-be-husband Charlie; Danielle Hope as the factory worker Lauren, who is infatuated with her seemingly unavailable boss (“The History of Wrong Guys”); Marcus Neville, reprising his original Broadway role of George, the business’s agreeable manager; and Sean Steele as Don, a cringeworthy example of toxic masculinity and Lola’s main antagonist at the factory, who challenges her to a boxing match (“In This Corner,” brilliantly staged and consummately executed in slow motion) and learns from her example and consideration how to treat people who are different.

Sean Steele (center) and members of the cast. Photo by Matthew Murphy/MurphyMade.

Rounding out the consistently excellent company are Ryan Halsaver, Ebrin R. Stanley, Bella Coppola, Lucas Pastrana, Liz Pearce, David J. Socolar, Devin Bowles, Matthew Michael Janisse, Lindsay Joan, and Ryah Nixon, in for Maria Wirries on the date I attended, who all join together with the others in recognizing their characters’ driving appreciation of shoes (“The Most Beautiful Thing”) and in the merit of their distinctive personalities co-existing authentically, in harmony (“Raise You Up/Just Be”).

The current production of Kinky Boots at Stage 42 delivers the up-close-and-personal feel of Off-Broadway theater with a Broadway quality cast, direction, and design. Whether you’ve never seen it before or have enjoyed different incarnations of the award-winning musical in the past, it’s an unbeatable combination and a show that should not be missed.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 15 minutes, including an intermission.

Kinky Boots plays through Sunday, February 12, 2023, at Stage 42, 422 West 42nd Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $67.50-$157.50), go online. Masks area no longer required in the theater but are strongly encouraged.

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