I saw Kinky Boots at the Al Hirschfeld Theater on Broadway the other night, and by intermission, I was convinced that it could be another Hairspray: a movie that finds success as a Broadway musical and then returns to the big screen as a movie musical.
You may recall that Hairspray started out as a modestly budgeted 1988 film by John Waters that starred Ricki Lake as Tracy Turnblad, the late, great drag queen Divine, in his last movie performance, as Tracy's mother, and Blondie's Deborah Harry. The film did okay at the box office but became a cult favorite when it was released to the home video market.
But that was just the beginning of its journey through American popular culture.
In 2002, producer Margo Lion, composer Marc Shaiman and writer Thomas Meehan adapted Hairspray for the stage. They cast Marissa Jane Winokur in the role of Tracy and Harvey Fierstein in the part that Divine played, Tracy's mother, and ended up with a Broadway hit. Re-enter New Line, which distributed the original film, and became involved in re-adapting the stage version as a movie musical. This time, John Travolta played Tracy's mother, and, once again, audiences bought tickets.
Like Hairspray, Kinky Boots began as a modest 2005 comedy film that was written by Tim Firth (Calendar Girls) and Geoff Deane, directed by Julian Jerrold and starred a baby-faced Joel Edgerton, who's about to look a whole lot more manly in The Great Gatsby. The film has only grossed a little over $10 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo, but it enjoys cult status among the trendsetting fashion crowd — as does Waters, by the way — because it involves two favorite topics: shoes and drag queens.
The movie and the play are loosely based on a real story: At a time when staid Northampton, England shoe manufacturers were going out of business, the WJ Brooks Ltd. shoe manufacturer there reinvented itself by making racy boots and shoes for drag queens and the fetish trade. The company is now known as Divine Footwear (yet another odd tie to the original Hairspray.)
In the movie (and stage production), the factory's reluctant new proprietor Charlie — who takes over when his father dies — hires a drag queen named Lola as chief shoe designer, which causes much controversy among his conservative blue-collar workforce
When you check out the clip below, keep in the mind that the original movie was not a musical, but it did feature this musical performance by Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor):
These Boots Are Made For Talkin'
Cut to April 4, when Kinky Boots, the musical opened on Broadway. Produced by Daryl Roth and Hal Luftig, the show's book was written by Harvey Fierstein — there's that Hairspray connection again — with songs and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, who knows how to write upbeat, crowd-pleasing music. The night I saw the production, the crowd loved it, and, last week, Kinky Boots enjoyed its first grosses over $1 million as well a berth among the five top-earning shows on Broadway. Here's a glimpse:
The show also seems to be drawing noteworthy producers who've worked in both theater and film, including David Geffen (Dreamgirls) and Paula Wagner (Jack Reacher, The Heiress). As you can see from the photo above, Waters and Barry Manilow also caught the play.
If Kinky Boots continues to pack in the out-of-town crowds, I could see it enjoying a second life as a movie musical. I bet most of the cast of Les Miserables would be interested.
Who would you cast?
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