Kinky Boots Broadway recoups

Drag hasn't been a drag for the musical, which makes it into the black in seven months

Broadway musical “Kinky Boots” has become the first of the 2012-13 season’s tuner successes to recoup its capitalization costs, according to producers — and the show’s speedy journey into the black marks the latest milestone for a production whose rapid ascent few saw coming.

After nabbing six Tonys earlier this year and seeing weekly sales swell to $1.5 million and beyond, it’s easy to forget that the title came in to Gotham as something of an underdog, behind critics’ darling “Matilda” and branded powerhouse “Motown” (both also doing very well at the B.O., it should be noted). Besides, “Kinky” was the third high-profile Main Stem musical to feature drag after the much-lauded, Tony-winning 2010 revival of “La Cage aux Folles” and the splashy 2011 megamusical “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” — both of which closed in the red.

But prodded by canny marketing and strong word-of-mouth, a growing wave of industry and audience enthusiasm helped push “Kinky Boots” over the top.

The tuner recouped its $13.5 million capitalization in 30 weeks, unusually fast for a production its size. The musical that dominated the 2011-12 season, “Once,” began turning a profit in six months, but that smaller-scale show’s capitalization came in at only $5.5 million. “The Book of Mormon,” the 2011 juggernaut that plays in a smaller theater than “Kinky,” recouped its $11.4 million capitalization in about eight months.

If crossdressing has proven an obstacle to broad audience support in the past, “Kinky Boots” may have been helped out from under the “drag curse” with a story that places just as much emphasis on the character of Charlie, the sensitive straight guy struggling to keep his late father’s shoe factory afloat, as it does on Lola, the sassy drag queen (with an entourage) who helps rejuvenate both sales and the lives of the workers on the factory floor.

In addition, much of the tuner’s marketing in the spring trumpeted the phrase “Everybody Say Yeah” (a song title from the musical), playing up the word “everybody” to underscore a story that’s meant to have universal appeal.

Besides, “Kinky Boots” was probably also helped by its early underdog status, allowing the show to surprise auds by overdelivering on lower expectations. Word-of-mouth, generally acknowledged by legiters as the real motor of ongoing sales, seems to have snowballed from there and, after a booster shot of Tony-champ publicity, remains strong enough to power the production’s robust sales even during the notoriously fallow month of September.

“Kinky Boots” is by no means the only show from last season to rake in big money: The spring 2013 slate proved unusually crowded with commercial powerhouses, including “Motown,” “Matilda” and “Pippin.” But with ticketbuyer enthusiasm still strong (and a $350 premium-priced ticket available to take advantage of high demand), “Kinky Boots” has helped prove that on Broadway, drag doesn’t have to be a drag.

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