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Legit Review: ‘Kinky Boots’

Never underestimate the power of a good-bad musical, which can make consenting adults yearn to be dancing queens and adolescent witches and, in the case of “Kinky Boots,” drag queens in stiletto-heeled footwear. Harvey Fierstein’s old-fashioned book recycles material from a 2005 Britpic (and draws on a sensibility considerably older than that) to preach sexual tolerance to a choir that’s already singing the Wedding March. But Cyndi Lauper’s score has the driving energy and uplifting spirit of a roller derby, and unless they get hung up on the show’s existential message, auds are likely to love it to death.

The cheerfully inane book introduces us to nice guy Charlie Price (Stark Sands, as cute and flatly featureless as the proverbial button), who inherits a failing shoe company in industrial England that’s likely to go out of business unless they come up with a new shoe model that will wow the international buyers at the next industry show in Milan. In one of the script’s many plot contrivances, Charlie teams up with a diva drag queen named Lola (Billy Porter, a master of his technical craft, if not an entirely happy camper), who singlehandedly saves the factory by designing a killer line of fetish footwear for the drag-queen niche market.

That’s about it for the basic story, although it’s layered with emo messages about knowing who you are (hint: you are not your father), respecting the humanity of others (hint-hint: drag queens and racist slobs are also human) and choosing an appropriate mate — or shoe.

None of this is hard to take, except for certain sudden and completely unmotivated character reversals manufactured to force some kind of conflict between Charlie and Lola, or Charlie and his family of factory workers, or Charlie and his two girlfriends, the unsuitable Nicola (Celina Carvajal, in a thankless role) and his true sole-mate, Lauren, the live-wire factory hand played with sizzling energy by the sensational Annaleigh Ashford — the only one in the entire cast, by the way, to manage a convincingly impenetrable working-class English accent.

As a director, Jerry Mitchell is a terrific choreographer, and Lauper’s sequined score gives him plenty to work with. “The Most Beautiful Thing” (In the World Is a Shoe), takes the show over the top before it’s even begun, with a deliriously funny salute to ridiculous footwear and the insane fetishists who dote on it.

And let’s hear it for dance captain Nathan Peck and assistant dance captain Paul Canaan, Broadway veterans (of memorable shows like “La Cage aux Folles” and “Taboo”) who lead the stunning line of drag queen “Angels” who elevate this dance-heavy show to the tips of its twinkle toes.

Lauper not only knows how to write super show tunes, she knows how to spread the joy around. Although the lyrics don’t always make a whole lot of sense, there are musical showstoppers for Porter (“The Land of Lola”), Ashford (“The History of Wrong Guys”) and Sands (“The Soul of a Man”), but there are also some rocking ensemble numbers (like “Sex Is in the Heel” and “Everybody Say Yeah”) that make the theater vibrate like a dance party.

As for that uncomfortable existential meaning, it’s easily read in the costumes (Gregg Barnes), hair and wigs (Josh Marquette) and makeup (Randy Houston Mercer). Although the divine Lola and her heavenly Angels are always coiffed to kill and outfitted in to-die ensembles, the poor straight folk on the factory assembly line are put in their humiliating place with ratty hair and bags of rags you’d be ashamed to donate to Oxfam. (Only Daniel Stewart Sherman, as the racist heavy in the simplistic plot, is granted a costume upgrade to signify his character reformation.)

From a visual context, “Kinky Boots” wants to make it clear that anyone who doesn’t want to be fabulous is doomed to wear sneakers.

Kinky Boots

(Al Hirschfeld Theater; 1,409 seats; $137 top)

A Daryl Roth, Hal Luftig, James L. Nederlander, Terry Allen Kramer, Independent Presenters Network, CJE&M, Jayne Baron Sherman, Just for Laughs Theatricals/Judith Ann Abrams, Yasuhiro Kawana, Jane Bergere, Allan S. Gordon & Adam S. Gordon, Ken Davenport, Hunter Arnold, Lucy & Phil Suarez, Bryan Bantry, Ron Fierstein & Dorsey Regal, Jim Kierstead/Gregory Rae, BB Group/Christina Papagjika, Michael DeSantis/Patrick Baugh, Brian Smith/Tom & Connie Walsh, Warren Trepp and Jujamcyn Theaters presentation of a musical in two acts with book by Harvey Fierstein, based on the Miramax film of the same name by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth, music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper. Directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell. Music director, Brian Usifer; music coordinator, Michael Keller; music supervision, arrangements and orchestrations, Stephen Oremus. Sets, David Rockwell; costumes, Gregg Barnes; lighting, Kenneth Posner; sound, John Shivers; hair, Josh Marquette; makeup, Randy Houston Mercer; production stage manager, Lois L. Griffing. Opened April 4, 2013. Reviewed April 3. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.

Cast: Celina Carvajal, Stark Sands, Marcus Neville, Daniel Stewart Sherman, Annaleigh Ashford, Billy Porter, Paul Canaan, Kevin Smith Kirkwood, Kyle Taylor Parker, Kyle Post, Charlie Sutton, Joey Taranto, Stephen Berger, Eugene Barry-Hill, Sebastian Hedges Thomas, Marquise Neal, Tory Ross, Andy Kelso, Jennifer Perry, John Jeffrey Martin, Adinah Alexander, Eric Anderson, Caroline Bowman, Eric Leviton, Ellyn Marie Marsh.

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