Kinky Boots

Co-written by Tim Firth of Calendar Girls fame/infamy, here comes another allegedly fact-based, timidly titillating Britcom to tickle middlebrow Anglophiles silly while busily fiddling their heartstrings to a snifter-snapping high C. In buttoned-down old Northampton, Price Shoes has stood for stolid quality as long as anybody can remember. Then the old man (Robert Hugh) dies, and inept scion Charlie (Joel Edgerton) feels so guilty selling the firm and sacking everyone that he decides to give the business a go. This pleases mouthy shoe factory worker Lauren (Sarah-Jane Potts) and infuriates Charlie's fiancée, the ickily upwardly mobile Nicola (Jemima Rooper). He and she were about to make a new life in fast-track London.

But nobody wants superior, handmade footwear that lasts in today's globalized society. How to save the factory and its workers? When Charlie saves a gay-bashing victim in an alleyway, he's saved himself. For the rescued Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor of Stephen Frears' Dirty Pretty Things and Spike Lee's Inside Man) is a strapping transvestite who's almost as tired of snapping off the spindly high heels on women's expensive yet nondurable shoes as he is of getting bashed by bigots.

Can Charlie design flashy, thigh-high gaywear with heels even a big man can't snap, score on the crucial Milan catwalk, and save his family legacy? Can he lose that biddy fiancée in favor of a newer model? And what about that burly, barrel-chested factory guy (Nick Frost) who thinks Charlie's not half the man his father was and Lola's less manly than that? Can this prole be made to see the light of tolerance and embrace his inner gay? Can Charlie become a man at last? And, really, could Lola be any more utterly, innocently sexless?

Big yeses and a final no. You probably know how you'll feel about the remarkably unkinky Kinky Boots before you set foot in the theater, so I'll not tell you that you should like its canny commercial calculations one whit less. Lola's transvestite musical revue numbers have tuneful verve (Ejiofor does his own singing), and the plot points, as ineluctable as the stations of the cross, efficiently hit their marks. And Ejiofor passes a career landmark: He's so charismatic a star that, even if you despise Britcoms, you have to see it anyway to keep up with his skyrocketing talent.

 
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