Cyndi Lauper, Like Bette Midler, Takes A Chance With Broadway…But In A Different Way

Will Cyndi Lauper’s “Kinky” Broadway Debut Succeed?
PLAY BY PLAY: Patrick Pacheco’s inside look at the world of theater, and the crazy people who inhabit it
AUGUST 17, 2012, 11:31 AM

Take a cult film involving a drag artiste, add songs by a popular songwriter, hire a Tony-winning book writer, director, and choreographer, and voila! You have”¦.”Hairspray.” Well, actually, you have a Broadway musical following in those sizable, high-heeled footsteps. Here comes “Kinky Boots,” with songs composed by Cyndi Lauper, a libretto by Harvey Fierstein (“La Cage Aux Folles“), and directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell (“Hairspray”). The team includes veteran producers Daryl Roth and Hal Luftig and even the small print features top shelf names, including Gregg Barnes on costumes and David Rockwell on sets.

Only a fool would ordain any Broadway-bound show as a sure thing. After all, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” had a lot going for it, including Bette Midler as a producer, and a jukebox score of fizzy pop tunes. And that wasn’t enough to set the box-office afire. But “Kinky Boots,” which this week announced that it would open at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre this spring, has Broadway buzzing about its commercial prospects.

Based on a 2005 British indie flick about a young man who inherits a failing shoe factory and finds an unlikely savior in a London drag queen, the musical stars Stark Sands (“Journey’s End”) and Billy Porter (“Smokey Joe’s Café,” “Grease”). The show, which marks Lauper’s Broadway debut, will have an out-of-town tryout in Chicago this fall prior to its New York bow. With this announcement, the slate of new musicals – as many as a dozen – is coming into greater focus. But unless a surprise materializes – and there always seems to be one – “Kinky Boots” and “Matilda” are shaping up to be the shows to beat for Best Musical Tony Award.

“Matilda” is based on the Roald Dahl children’s classic about a precocious and vengeful child with telekinetic powers and it already has the imprimatur of Ben Brantley, chief critic of the New York Times, who reviewed the Royal Shakespeare Company production after it transferred from Stratford to London’s West End. Despite winning critical raves and multiple awards, “Matilda” could yet prove to be “too British” for American audiences – a charge that was hurled at “Billy Elliot,” which nonetheless managed to run nearly four years. It is unlikely to be leveled at “Kinky Boots,” given its all-American, bred-on-Broadway team.

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