Performing Arts

Broadway greats and a pop icon make ‘Kinky Boots’ a must-see musical

J. Harrison Ghee is the fabulous Lola in the touring version of ‘Kinky Boots.’
J. Harrison Ghee is the fabulous Lola in the touring version of ‘Kinky Boots.’ Matthew Murphy

Kinky Boots the musical takes its name from Kinky Boots the movie, a charmer about a failing English shoe factory that finds salvation in making sexy, sturdy boots for drag queens.

The title is come-hither provocative, for sure. But maybe a better name for the show would have been Endearing Boots. That wouldn’t have sold as many tickets or fit Broadway’s movie-into-musical branding style, but it’s an accurate description of the joyous, high-energy show that’s lighting up the Ziff Ballet Opera House stage at Miami’s Arsht Center through Sunday.

The Tony Award-winning musical is the work of two celebrated Broadway greats, book writer Harvey Fierstein and director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell. In her Broadway composing debut, pop icon Cyndi Lauper was the third part of the creative triangle; her music and lyrics for Kinky Boots brought her the best score Tony Award, making her the first solo female winner in that category.

What the trio crafted is stirring, uplifting. sometimes a little corny and sentimental. The show is gloriously entertaining, start to finish, and the touring company is a dream.

Kinky Boots tells the story of two men, Charlie Price (Adam Kaplan) and a glamorous drag queen called Lola (J. Harrison Ghee), who would seem to have little in common. Charlie is running off to London with his ambitious fiancee Nicola (Charissa Hogeland), the better to avoid taking over his family’s dying shoe factory in Northampton. Lola, surrounded by fellow drag performers dubbed her “Angels,” does her act in not-so-fancy clubs and gets harassed by haters.

After their accidental meeting in London, Charlie and Lola realize they can be of use to each other. Price & Son, on the verge of folding because the market for its sensible yet expensive shoes has been ruined by cheaper imports, will instead make “kinky boots,” glamorous stiletto-heeled footwear that can bear the weight of the drag queens who perform in them. Charlie taps the surprised Lola to be the boots’ designer, but it turns out she has as much of a flair for that as she does for every other aspect of her life. (The real genius designer, we must note, is Gregg Barnes, whose costumes and boots are sexy, whimsical and an endless visual treat.)

And different as the new business partners seem to be, Charlie and Lola learn they have a family dynamic in common. Each feels he has disappointed his father, Charlie for not taking over the factory until circumstances forced it, Lola — real name Simon — for not becoming the boxer her disapproving dad trained Simon to be.

Fierstein, who donned drag in his Tony-winning Torch Song Trilogy and as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray (another Tony), also won a Tony for writing the book for La Cage aux Folles, another hugely successful musical steeped in the drag world. His knowledge of that world and his skills in writing musicals with heart pay off abundantly in Kinky Boots.

Lauper was a musical theater novice going into Kinky Boots, but the composing and lyric-writing gifts that made her such a versatile pop star have yielded a score laced with playful numbers (The Sex Is in the Heel), comedic gems (The History of Wrong Guys), plaintive or stirring ballads (Not My Father’s Son and Soul of a Man), a Whitney Houston-style showstopper (Hold Me In Your Heart) and rousing numbers (Everybody Say Yeah and Raise You Up/Just Be) that make you wish you could climb onstage and dance.

That last part is also Mitchell’s doing. He won a Tony for his Kinky Boots choreography, which is — let’s just say it — spectacular. The first-act finale is one of the most inventive things he (or any other choreographer) has ever staged, but we’re not giving away any spoilers.

The tour has a newish Charlie in Kaplan, a fine and moving singer (his Soul of a Man is intense and powerful). The actor also radiates likeability, which helps to slightly soften the character (a good thing) when pressure causes him to lace into Lola and the factory workers.

Ghee’s riveting, larger-than-life Lola walks — or maybe sashays — away with just about any scene she’s in, but that’s as it should be when a diva is in the house. A rousing singer who happens to be tall and slender, the actor becomes even more glamorously commanding when he’s wearing Lola’s array of boots and shoes with sky-high heels. In drag, he’s a stunner, and his Hold Me in Your Heart is worthy of any big-time diva.

The leads are surrounded by an unusually strong company, including the all-male Angels (a group of gorgeous, athletic dancers), Tiffany Engen as the factory worker Lauren (her work is an amazing comedic master class) and Aaron Walpole as Don, Lola’s portly nemesis at Price & Son.

The Miami run of Kinky Boots is way too short, but there’s good news for anyone who won’t be able to catch it now: Kinky Boots will circle back to South Florida for a run at Fort Lauderdale’s Broward Center March 1-13. That’s a regional rarity, for a show to play both venues in the same season. Put it on your should-see list.

Christine Dolen: 305-376-3733, @christinedolen

If you go

What: ‘Kinky Boots’ by Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein.

Where: Ziff Ballet Opera House at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami (returns to Fort Lauderdale’s Broward Center March 1-13).

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 7 p.m. Sunday.

Cost: $29-$145.

Information: 305-949-6722 or www.arshtcenter.org.

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