Stories about Faith & Sexuality

Dec 27th, 2013

Kinky Boots

I’m well aware how ridiculous it is to write a blog post about Kinky Boots. The whole show is ridiculous. One of its warmest reviews in the NYT couldn’t take the production seriously. Even before eviscerating the second act for shallow moralizing, Ben Brantley wrote,

From the outset, this show comes rushing at you head-on, all but screaming: “Love me! Love me!” It’s a shameless emotional button pusher, presided over — be warned — by that most weary of latter-day Broadway archetypes, a strong and sassy drag queen who dispenses life lessons like an automated fortune cookie.

Indeed, the sixth of the final number’s secrets to success is “You change the world when you change your mind.” (Two of the others are “Let love shine” and “Let pride be your guide,” which I only understand well enough to hate.) Are you throwing up yet? I thought I might before seeing it on Monday. Instead, I cried—even, ah, during that last damn song.

I loathe sentimentality about as much as I loathe cliches, and Kinky Boots parades both around the stage for 2+ hours. I really didn’t care while I was in the audience, and I still don’t care, days later, looping the Original Cast Recording on Spotify. I could gab about the costuming and one-liners and score from Cyndi Lauper, my guiltiest guilty pleasure. The show won Best Musical at the Tony’s for a reason. But it was the heart of the story that captivated me most. Maybe because I grew up gay in smalltown Texas, or because I only heard about Kinky Boots when conservative Facebook friends complained about its inclusion in the Macy’s Day Parade: despite Brantley’s grumbling, I cried during the most maudlin moments, because people need to keep getting beaten over the head with its stereotypical message.

The plot, if you don’t know, is about a struggling British shoe factory that decides to tap into a niche market: stilettos for drag queens. The factory heir and Lola/Simon are the two male(ish) leads, united in their struggle for their fathers’ approval. The external conflict arises between Lola and her backup dancers and the country bumpkins. Gosh, it’s wonderful to watch. Listen to “Sex Is in the Heel” for the most delicious taste.

And yes, the pathos is resolved by that message we’ve heard on every children’s show and episode of Oprah: Accept yourself/accept others. Brantley is right that it’s an exhausted moral, but the musical actually visualized that message, which revitalized it in a way I’ve never seen. I nearly cried the first time Lola sings, and the song is not remotely sad. Her opening lyrics are “Leave expectations at the door; just let your eyes explore my cinematic flair, from my boot to derrière. I’ve got a lacy silken feel with arms as hard as steel. I am freedom, I’m constriction: A potpourri of contradiction.” Ridiculous. What wasn’t ridiculous was the courage with which she sang, strutted, and delivered every line in drag.

Billy Porter is a genius performer, and he created one of the bravest, most human characters I’ve seen on stage. Simon grew up a little boy who liked to wear his mom’s shoes (“the most beautiful thing in the world”), with a father who tried to box it out of him. Not every gay man likes drag. I can hardly imagine wearing a kilt myself. But every gay kid knows what it’s like to grow up in a home or society that scorns a basic part of them. Moms on social media were horrified on Thanksgiving that their children had to witness men wearing women’s boots, despite the statistical fact that 5-15% of those children needed to hear Kinky Boots‘ message most. Hell, we all need to hear it, because I don’t even know straight people with the composure and strength Lola demonstrated on stage.

Stop reading if you can’t handle a bit of sermonizing, but as a Christian, I believe every human has innate, precious value. However we become aware of that matters less than that we become aware of it. Kinky Boots brandished two dozen cliches to wave this in my face, and it stupidly moved me. The show was also just so much fun. So for whatever it’s worth, my plug: Try to see the show if it tours. You’ll enjoy yourself, even if you don’t cry half the time like I did.

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Posted By David Michael   |   1 Comment

One Response

  1. Elena says:

    You’ve convinced me. :)

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