‘Kinky Boots’ high-kickin’ fun

High heels and a big heart are at the center of “Kinky Boots,” the hit musical now on a tour stop at the Orpheum Theatre through Dec. 28.

The physical production looks as good as the Broadway original and this talented cast might just have a glitteringly shod leg up on their Big Apple cousins when it comes to the vigor of their performances.

That isn’t immediately evident and it takes a few numbers to get the motor running but, like many things in San Francisco, it all gets better once the drag queens arrive on stage. (There was a full court press of them in the house on opening night.)

It’s based on a smallish British film from 2005 and, like the similarly themed “The Full Monty” and “Billy Elliot,” got a pop music makeover, this time with Cyndi Lauper in the composer seat.

“Kinky Boots” high-kicks where the other two stumble because Harvey Fierstein has written a compelling central character. The erstwhile how-to-save-the-family-business plot is left on the shoulder of the road to self-acceptance once we enter the “Land of Lola.” It was a star-confirming role for Tony-winner Billy Porter, who makes his Feinstein’s debut here in January. In the hands of Kyle Taylor Parker it should be a star-maker.

A little less regal, a tad more righteous, Parker offers up a soul-stirring, heart-squeezing portrait of an outsider who thought he’d set his bargain with life and then is opened up to new possibilities. It’s a performance brimming with humor, compassion, dignity and sass, and boy, the man can sing!

As his foil and compatriot, footwear heir Charlie Price, Steven Booth grows nicely through his character’s progression from rebellion to responsibility and from hubris to humble understanding of some real family values, with his own impressive vocal chops on display. Lauper’s virgin flight into musical theater sputters a bit in the plot-setting numbers, but is fun and fizzy in the character songs. This is particularly evident when delivered with the outlandish panache of Lindsey Nicole Chambers, whose “The History of Wrong Guys” is a showstopper.

There really aren’t any weak links in the company. Lola’s six glamazon drag Angels generate an electric crackle whenever they appear. Special recognition must also go to Craig Waletzko, whose character takes a lesson from the book of Lola and goes through a lovely metamorphosis from bookkeeper drudge to his own true self, with a song-and-dance enthusiasm that is simply ebullient.

REVIEW

Kinky Boots

Where: Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Dec. 28

Tickets: $75 to $300

Contact: (888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com

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