The oldest and first dedicated online New York Theater Guide Read news on over 150 Broadway and Off-Broadway shows

NYTG Logo

'Kinky Boots' review — hit musical returns with its heart and glittery heels intact

Diep Tran
Diep Tran

It's not everyday a shoe gets an entrance applause. But at a recent performance of Kinky Boots off Broadway, that's just what happened when the eponymous kinky boot was unveiled. Here she is, folks: bright red, sparkling, not a seam out of place, with a stiletto heel as high as the heavens, and "two and a half feet of irresistible, tubular sex." With her unveiling, and the entrance of the drag queen wearing her, the message is clear: Kinky Boots has officially sashayed back to New York. 

In 2013, Kinky Boots the musical premiered on Broadway, with a book by Harvey Fierstein and Tony-winning original pop-rock songs by Cyndi Lauper. The show won the Tony Award for Best Musical and ran on Broadway until 2019. Now, the runway she's walking on is smaller than it was on Broadway. The band may have fewer instruments. But Kinky Boots still has its big, glittery heart intact. And amid recent anti-LGBTQ legislation, the musical and its message of acceptance are more powerful and necessary.

The Kinky Boots musical is based on the 2005 British indie film of the same name (which starred a not-yet-famous Joel Edgerton and Chiwetel Ejiofor). It's based on a true story of a struggling British shoe factory owner named Charlie who, realizing that the demand is dying down for British-made loafers, pivots to making shoes for another type of man: drag queens, with the help of an opinionated queen named Lola.

The smaller Stage 42 is actually an asset. You're close enough to the stage to Lola (an incandescent Callum Francis) and her fellow drag queens (called the Angels), to admire their contouring and to see the fine craftsmanship on their boots — my eye was particularly drawn to a black and green pair of lace-up boots, and what used to appear generic green from a Broadway house is actually a patterned brocade with a sparkly white heel. Gregg Barnes's costumes are eye-popping enough for the runway at RuPaul's Drag Race.

Fierstein has made some changes to the show's book for this new version, and to reflect changing terminology. He cut every mention of "transvestites" from the script. It's a smart cut, as it means Lola is never explaining drag culture to the audience. The show also cut young Charlie and young Lola, so we never see the young Lola being slapped by her father for wearing heels, a more uneven narrative choice.

Charlie (a dashing Christian Douglas) and his life story introduces the musical, so it's now less about the parallel stories of Charlie and Lola, and more a story about a straight white man learning how to open his mind. Unfortunately, Charlie has always been the less interesting character — after all, the show is called Kinky Boots, not Practical Loafers. But as Charlie, Douglas is a clean-cut and upright figure who you can't imagine going to a drag show — this creates a clearer contrast between him and the rambunctious Lola. His tenor voice is also pleasing and powerful, though his Northampton accent is spotty at times. 

Callum Francis has played Lola in the West End and on Broadway, so there's an effortlessness and youthfulness to his portrayal. His Lola is multidimensional: a bombastic show queen in the song "The Land of Lola," slyly funny during the book scenes, and sensitive and soulful in the song, "I'm Not My Father's Son." Francis is a joy to watch. And the way he disdainfully says "BUURRRgundy!" should be a sound on TikTok. 

Some aspects of this Kinky Boots are less spectacular than they were on Broadway. The choreography by director Jerry Mitchell is unimaginative and lacks oomph, especially for the Angels, defaulting to mostly arm movements and an occasional high kick. How do you choreograph for drag queens with no hairography and only one death drop? RuPaul would tell you to sashay away. 

Despite these nit-picks, now is the perfect time to see Kinky Boots. The musical is no longer a simple feel-good tale; it's an important entreaty for equality. There's still a whiff of fantasy about the whole thing, such as how Lola easily turns the factory's homophobe Don into a stiletto-heel-wearing ally of the LGBTQ community. But when Don says, "You lookin' for me to say men in frocks is all right?" and Lola responds, "I'm not looking for you to say anything," the exchange packs a powerful punch now. 

With today's news headlines of drag queens being terrorized by the Proud Boys, and the Don't Say Gay bill in Florida, we need the fantasy that Lola and her Angels provide. Or maybe it's not a fantasy. It's a promise of what's possible, if all of us, "ladies, gentlemen, they, them and those who have yet to make up their minds," put on our heels and walk confidently together.

Kinky Boots is running at Stage 42. Get Kinky Boots tickets on New York Theatre Guide.

Photo credit: The Off-Broadway cast of Kinky Boots. (Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Originally published on

This website uses cookies.