A mixed ‘Kinky Boots’ is big on sparkle, but sound and singing are a bit of a drag

National tour features an impressive Jos N. Banks as Lola, and Cyndi Lauper’s songs are first-rate, but Harvey Fierstein’s book has some problems

THEATER REVIEW

“Kinky Boots” strutted into Fresno’s Saroyan Theater on Wednesday night with a happy bounce to its step and enough patent leather to stock a Jimmy Choo outlet store. The audience ate up the show’s crowd-pleasing, feel-good, mildly subversive message of inclusion, which includes a rousing declaration of “Just be who you wanna be!”

Some in today’s contentious political climate would likely waggle their jowls at the thought of a Broadway musical celebrating men who wear glamorous gowns, but, frankly, “Kinky Boots” is pretty mild as far as kinky stuff goes. As Lola (aka Simon), the proud female impersonator driving the plot of the show, proclaims: “Drag queens are mainstream!”

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Jos N. Banks, center, is Lola in the national tour of “Kinky Boots.” Photo / Broadway in Fresno

I saw the show on Broadway, and this non-Equity national tour feels more scaled down and less representative of its original New York production than, say, the impressive national tour of “Beautiful,” which wowed the Saroyan last fall. At the same time, however, this “Kinky Boots” has a bright, cheery vibe and lots of dazzle, and Cyndi Lauper’s buoyant score and lyrics soar. Here are some thoughts from opening night:

A well-played Lola: Jos N. Banks imbued Lola with a scrappy vulnerability that was an especially effective counterpoint to her brassy bravado. The show only really begins to heat up midway through the first act with the song “The Sex is in the Heel,” sung by Lola, and Banks offered a rousing rendition. Of all the actors in this production, Banks was most successful at making his character feel multidimensional on stage.

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