Arts In LA

Broadway HD Kinky Boots

Kinky Boots
Broadway HD

Reviewed by Jonas Schwartz

Killian Donnelly and Matt Henry at center, with ensemble
Photo by Matt Crockett

BroadwayHD continues its edict to professionally capture vital theater for the masses with its filming of Kinky Boots in honor of gay pride and the 50th anniversary of Stonewall/the birth of the gay movement.
   A musicalization of the 2005 British film, Kinky Boots was the Broadway debut of composer-lyricist Cyndi Lauper when it opened in 2013. The production filmed for BroadwayHD is the West End production, which opened in 2015. Following the plot of the film, Charlie (Killian Donnelly), the son of a late factory owner, has longed to escape his small British town life for London but is now saddled with the dying business and the needs of its workers. Lola (Olivier Award-winner Matt Henry), a vivacious drag queen, advises Charlie about a niche market in desperate need of solid boots that can look fashionable but still withstand the weight of 200- pound-plus men.
   The combination of titillating performance numbers at the cabaret and more intimate songs at the factory are a natural for the stage musical format. Lauper’s score services the plot and character development, but lacks ingenuity to make the songs memorable. She creates anthems, including “Raise You Up,” and ballads, including “Not My Father’s Son,” that fit the Broadway framework, but many of her lyrics are the same phrase repeated, and the only song that sticks out as truly intricate is the tango-infused “What a Woman Wants.” The book, by Harvey Fierstein, can be heavy-handed, but his passion and respect for these characters are evident.

Matt Henry brings panache to the glamorous Lola, who struts in stiletto heels and sings with an out-and-proud attitude, but also adds pathos to those moments when Lola strips away the makeup and reveals a shy small-town guy who still yearns for his father’s approval. As the earnest Charlie, Killian Donnelly has a belting theatrical voice and a lovable presence.
   Director Jerry Mitchell shows off his innovative flair in the dance-heavy drag club scenes as well as in the blue collar world of the factory. The stellar Act One finale imaginatively involves a thrilling dance on the factory conveyer belts, while the show’s finale has the entire cast strutting the catwalk in a variety of kinky boots. Gregg Barnes’s extravagant costumes, mixing bright colors and leather, are a feast for the eye. Those drag queen dresses would win the runway on any night of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
   BroadwayHD director Brett Sullivan keeps the filming clean so the camera focuses on the performances while never seeming boxed in.

A celebration of liberation, Kinky Boots won six Tonys, including Best Musical, and ran for more than 2,500 performances, with another 1,400 in the West End, and tours all over the world. While the transgender population continues to face hardships and discrimination, musicals like this, TV’s POSE, and RuPaul’s enterprise (which features transgender drag queens as well as cisgender), bring enlightenment to a population of the world who have only seen negative propaganda. Positive exposure breeds acceptance and love.
July 17, 2019
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