There's still nothing like seeing a hit show on Broadway. Academically-oriented critics complain that there's been no"serious theater" there for ages, and except for revivals, that's pretty much true. I just got a flyer for a production this coming fall of Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie, with Cherry Jones, probably the leading American stage actress today, playing the lead role that the legendary Laurette Taylor created way back in 1945. This, by the way, will be its sixth revival on Broadway.
But Broadway can still come up with musicals--sure, you may not leave the theater humming as I did after seeing Anything Goes in St. Louis two weeks ago, a production that is now landing at the Kennedy Center here in D.C. for a few weeks' run--but all the same, I just saw a good new one. It opened in April and walked off with a mess of Tony awards earlier in June. It's Kinky Boots, music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, who burst upon the music scene some years ago with "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and book by Harvey Fierstein, with a passel of shows to his credit.
The show moves, keeps your attention, has a nice straight-forward story line, and boasts a standout singing and dancing star, Billy Porter by name, who works mostly in drag. He's absolute dynamite. The musical follows the tradition that dates back to Oklahoma in 1944 of using song and dance to advance the story; Anything Goes, which hails to 1934, preceded that momentous turning point and is a pastiche of comedy scenes, big production numbers, and minimal plot stitched together masterfully by theatrical wizards Cole Porter, the composer, and the tandem of Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse on the book and lyrics. And how can you go wrong with a score that includes (I know, not at of the Porter songs were in this particular show, but now they are): It's Delightful, It's De-Lovely, It's Delicious; You're the Top; I Get a Kick Out of You; and best of all, in my humble view, Blow, Gabriel, Blow.
I find that the lack of tunes that stick with you has been a drawback to most musicals I've seen debut in recent years but Kinky Boots has so much going for it in the excellent staging, marvelous dance and song routines, and Porter's overall stage presence that it pulls it off and aside from the standing ovation, you leave the Al Hirschfeld Theater (ne Martin Beck) on West 45th past Eighth feeling like you've spent your time and money well.
I've since learned that the plot is based on a real story from Northampton, England, and was in fact the basis for a movie in 2005. It's an exhilarating experience--yes, I know that audiences get up on their feet these days for lots of shows that wouldn't have pulled them up previously but I still felt this was the real thing.