Kinky Boots – big winner on Tony night?

If you want to prepare for this Sunday night’s Tony Awards telecast on CBS (8pm EST), you might want to get hold of the new original Broadway cast album of the show that has more nominations than any other, Kinky Boots. With 13 nominations, there are likely to be a good many times when the orchestra has to break into whatever music from this show they use for those moments when the winners rush to the stage to make their acceptance speeches.

In this case, it is likely to be either of two jaunty phrases the show’s composer/lyricist, Cyndi Lauper, came up with for the big numbers that end the acts, Act 1’s “Everybody Say Yeah” or Act 2’s “Raise You Up / Just Be.” Both were intentionally built on short, repetitive phrases that lend themselves to sounding like joyous exclamations.

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Click to buy on Amazon

They certainly work to lift the audience’s attitude at those two moments that are crucial to the success of this kind of a show. What kind of show? An energetic celebration of the acceptance of differences in the mold of Hairspray, but with ties as well to La Cage aux Folles, Legally Blonde and even Shrek. Remember “Let Your Freak Flag Fly”?

I don’t know if musical theater novice Lauper was taking the advice of musical theater veteran Harvey Fierstein who wrote the book for this joyous example of the diversity-affirming feel good musical when she penned these two numbers, or if the reliance on repetition comes naturally to the pop star who gave us “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.” But she certainly must have been listening to the expertise of Mr. Fierstein in the construction of the opening number. It is a classic example of how a song can deliver plot and character information with enough repetition to drive the points home without driving the audience to distraction as it might in merely spoken scenes.

This number, “The Most Beautiful Thing In The World,” introduces us to Charlie Price whose father, the latest in a long line of shoe company executives, believes shoes to be the most beautiful thing in the world and whose girlfriend, who wants him to move to London to marry her, believes that high fashion shoes are the most beautiful thing in the world. Then there is the young boy is rejected by his father when he develops the idea that high heels are the most beautiful thing in the world, and all the factory workers whose livelihood rely on them believe that shoes are the most beautiful thing in the world.

If you think I am using the phrase “the most beautiful thing in the world” too many times, think of what it would be like if a spoken scene from a play were to use the phrase twenty-two times in six minutes! That’s how many times the phrase appears in the song, but it seems like high spirited fun, not repetitious drudgery. Such is the magic of musical theater!

Charlie is played by Stark Sands whose energetic performance is hinted at on the recording. Sands’ boyish charm and emotional solos, as well as his leadership of the company for the big chorus numbers, made his nomination for the Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical well deserved. He does, however, have a strange vocal idiosyncrasy of pronouncing the “ee” sound at the end of a word as “ay” so that, for example, one couplet sounds like: “Everybody’s telling may / What I need to bay. / Live out a legasay … / Maybe its time to seize my destinay.”

He’s not the only nominee in that category from this show. Billy Porter was also nominated. He plays Lola, the grown up transvestite whose stilettos become the in-demand “Kinky Boots” that, by capturing a previously untapped niche market, saves Charlie’s company from bankruptcy. His style and energy, not to mention his ability to turn on the schmaltz when necessary, earned him the nomination.

It is a pleasure to report that the booklet includes the full lyrics, which allows you to see just how Lauper has structured each piece of the storytelling pie. However, a missing ingredient is a synopsis of the storyline so you can see what function each of the songs has in the storytelling. Instead, the booklet includes an extended note by Harvey Fierstein on the development of the musical. It is interesting, but it is no substitute for a scene by scene and song by song synopsis.

All you get is this short blurb:

“Charlie Price (Stark Sands) has suddenly inherited his father’s shoe factory, which is on the verge of bankruptcy. Trying to live up to his father’s legacy and save his family business, Carlie finds inspiration in the form of Lola (Bill Porter). A fabulous entertainer in need of some sturdy stilettos, Lola turns out to be the one person who can help Charlie become the man he’s meant to be. As they work to turn the factory around, this unlikely pair finds that they have more in common than they ever dreamed possible … and discovers that when you change your mind about someone, you can change your whole world.”

That’s it.

So what is “Take What You Got” about, and who is this Harry that Charlie is singing it with? What is “The History of Wrong Guys” doing in this story, and who is Lauren who sings it? How did a boxing match get into the show, and who is this Don who is fighting Lola? Why, in his notes, does Harvey Fierstein say the show is “in large part the story of a building”?

Let me try to fill you in just a bit. Harry is Charlie’s chum who appears briefly in the first act to help sing a song, and then seems to disappear. It is one of those parts that seems like the character was important in the early drafts, but the part had to be cut down because the show was running too long. Andy Kelso does an acceptable job with his duet with Stark Sands as Charlie.

Annaleigh Ashford is Lauren, the shoe factory employee with a crush on Charlie. She makes a number of contributions to the show, including a nifty short bit interrupting the finale. But her big number is an all but show stopping song in the first act that brings to my mind the work that Katie Finneran did in the revival of Promises, Promises three years ago. Finneran won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical that year.  This year, Ashford has been nominated in the same category.

Kinky Boots

Original Broadway Cast Recording
Masterworks Broadway Catalog 88883-70832-2
Running time 58 minutes over 15 tracks
Packaged with lyrics, notes and six color photos

Don is the blue collar factory employee who has the most difficulty coping with the idea that the staid gentlemen’s shoe firm should market to what he sees as a group of deviants, but who, since this is, after all, a celebration of the acceptance of differences musical, comes around in the end. Just why the booklet uses one of its few spaces for color photographs on a shot of the six “angels” who play practically no role in the show instead of on a photo of Daniel Stewart Sherman who plays Don is beyond me. (They could well have included a bonus track of his funny, in-character “turn your cell phones off” announcement that opens the show.)

The recording shows off the superb arrangements/orchestrations of Tony nominee Stephen Oremus, who, with this set of songs that has a consistency of uniquely identifiable sound even as they have a fairly wide range of moods and styles, outdid his Tony winning work on The Book of Mormon two years ago. Not all of his work shows up on the recording. The dance material is truncated, probably to avoid too much repetition. The Act 1 finale “Everybody Say Yeah” is nearly a minute and a half shorter on disc than in the theater, but without the visual excitement of Tony nominated director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell’s moves on the shoe factory’s assembly line treadmill, it probably sounds better this way.  (He was nominated in both categories, by the way.)

As Tony night progresses, there’s the possibility that you will hear one of the joyous blasts from this show a dozen times, including when they announce the awards for sound design, lighting design, costume design, scenic design, original score (music and lyrics) written for the theater, book for a musical and the biggie … best musical of the year.

Brad Hathaway About Brad Hathaway

Brad Hathaway, Theatre Shelf columnist - Brad covered theater throughout the Washington area for over a decade. He is best known locally for his work as the editor and reviewer for Potomac Stages from 2001 to 2010. Among the publications that have featured his writing are The Hill Rag, the Connection Newspapers of Northern Virginia, Show Music Magazine and The Sondheim Review. As a member of the American Theater Critics Association, he hosted their 2008 annual conference in Washington and currently serves on that association’s executive committee. Brad received a League of Washington Theatres’ Offstage Honors Award for contributions to the Washington DC theater community. He and his wife Teddie live on a houseboat in Sausalito CA.

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