Musical ‘Kinky Boots’ has heart, humor, and sole

Steve Booth and Kyle Taylor Parker in the national touring production of

Steve Booth and Kyle Taylor Parker in the national touring production of “Kinky Boots.” Photo: Matthew Murphy

BOSTON – The lives of working-class English folk has proven to be fertile ground for the writers of musicals.

The national touring production of “Kinky Boots” at the Opera House in Boston has to do with the longtime workers at the shoemaking firm of Price & Son in Northampton, England.

Like many in the line of work, the company has been ravaged by imports and changing tastes, but the proprietor (Nick Sullivan) is hopeful son Charlie will take over the reins when it’s time and keep the longtime plant workers gainfully employed.

When the plant is running full tilt, it can be “The Most Beautiful Thing in the World,” as one of Cyndi Lauper’s Tony-winning songs is titled, and a proud father tells his son: Someday all this will be yours. There’s just one problem: Charlie Price (Steven Booth) doesn’t want any part of it, envisioning a life in the bright lights of London with his girlfriend (Grace Stockdale).

Kyle Taylor Parker as Lola in

Kyle Taylor Parker as Lola in “Kinky Boots.” Photo: Matthew Murphy

But his father’s death forces Charlie back home, where he is immediately confronted with reality.

Stock has been piling up and there are no buyers in sight, and only a miracle can keep the plant open.

When he comes to the aid of what he thinks is a woman being assaulted by several men, he finds it isn’t actually a woman, but a drag queen named Lola (Kyle Taylor Parker). Part of his on-stage dress code are  sexy hip-high boots, worn by him and his fellow dancers, who are looking for something better and more spectacular.

Charlie sees a niche he believes his firm can exploit; the story is based on an actual British shoe-making firm in the 1990s that started making boots for women that were also worn by men.

In this case, Charlie hires Lola as a designer for the new product, but the reaction to his arrival on the scene at the factory is mixed when he arrives in full drag regalia. Even when Lola tries to fit in with “business class” attire, things are strained.

Similar ground has been trod in the past when it comes to working-class English folk confronting something they don’t really understand in “Billy Elliot, The Musical” where economically-strapped English coal miners are aghast at Billy’s decision to take up ballet.

The difficult relationships they had with their fathers growing up bonds Charlie and Lola (nee Simon) and makes for a touching “Not My Father’s Son.”

Lola is not your average drag queen. He is a trained boxer and the son of a boxer, who later disowned him. He travels with a group of six dancing “Angels,” all men who are passing – some spectacularly — as women.

“I make a roomful of people feel normal by comparison.” Lola says at one point.

Joe Coots as factory worker Don is the most resistant to accepting Lola as part of the crew, but a boxing match in which Lola lets Don escape with dignity intact, Lola earns his respect.

“Kinky Boots” was only a modest success as a 2005 film but benefits here from the stage adaptation by Harvey Fierstein, who has written some of the better books of musical in recent years (“Hairspray,” etc.). Fierstein’s book uses humor in extolling the virtues of being what you want to be, and finding the true road to acceptance and happiness.

He also wrote the book for 1983’s “La Cage aux Folles,” which approached the subject of drag performers in a completely different way at a completely different time.

Cyndi Lauper’s Tony Award-winning score has all the rock sensibilities you’d expect, and is strong even when things get softer during Lola’s second-act showstopper, “Hold Me in Your Heart.”

Lauper  also rocks out in some rousing production numbers, including the “Raise You Up/Just Be” finale that raises the roof of the spacious Opera House.

Director and Choreographer Jerry Mitchell decides early on what works and decides to keep giving us more of it.

“Kinky Boots” won six 2013 Tonys and is still running on Broadway, and while “Billy Elliot” did the angst of a child seeking a parent’s approval better, the combination of Fierstein’s humor and heart and Lauper’s bouncy melodies still sends the audience out onto Washington Street on a high note.

The national touring production of “Kinky Boots.” Book by Harvey Fierstein, music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper. Based on the Miramax motion picture “Kinky Boots.” Directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell. At the Opera House, Washington Street, Boston through Aug. 30. http://www.BroadwayinBoston.com.

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