These 'Kinky Boots' may lead you on an unexpected path

MIAMI, Fla. -- Shoes are "the most beautiful thing in the world" we're told repeatedly through song in the electric, life-affirming musical "Kinky Boots," which will return to downtown Cleveland's PlayhouseSquare this summer due to popular demand. It's making it's way north from South Florida, where I recently caught a performance.
The title shoes are indeed footwear that looks fabulous and fascinates, just as the 2013 Tony Award-winning best musical does.
But the heart and soul of this show, based on a true story, suggests the most beautiful thing in the world is the human mind, which has the capacity to change the world.
Sure, part of what endears this show to so many are luscious outward visuals, such as those glistening, high-heeled boots, gorgeous costumes worn by drag queens and sparkling scenery.
But the show's messages carry just as much power to pull you into its world of eye candy. When you think "outside the box," look where you never thought you'd glance and socialize with people you never thought you'd encounter. In short, leave your comfort zone and good things might happen.
Businessman Charlie Price's place in life is hardly the shoe factory Price and Son, left to him by his father, who expected him to carry on the Northamptom, England family business. Orders are down and company morale is low.
Meanwhile, another young man, a drag-queen named Lola, is growing up in the Midlands. He loves a pair of red women's heels as much as the younger Price dislikes his father's company's shoes. Lola's fascination angers his father.
Certainly, part of the show's success stem from the songs, ranging from the rousing, invograting "Everybody Say Yeah" and "Raise You Up/Just Be" to the quieter, touching "Hold Me In Your Heart."
Then there's a defiant, powerful song with a gasp-inducing title: "Not My Father's Son," during which Lola and Charlie talk about how different they are from their fathers. They have more in common then they think.
The unlikely relationship also adds to the show's appeal. Many can relate to improbable alliances working together to bring about positive change and developments. It's what gives us hope for our lives and our world, which these days can seem hopeless.
Just as Price and Son struggles, an idea comes to light that saves it.
The shoe manufacturer, with the help of Lola, begins manufacturing red women's boots worn by singing and dancing transvestites.
The elder Price might be rolling in his grave, but the rejuvenated company is rolling out this footware at an assembly-line pace, manufacturing them for a prestigious fashion show.
Of course, if success began as soon as Lola entered the factory, the end result wouldn't seem as rewarding and earned. Thankfully, award winning book writer and playwright Harvey Firestein throws in obstacles in the characters' path. They bicker. This part of the boot isn't constructed right, Lola comes to work improperly dressed and a blue coller bloke challenges Lola's manhood.
What it means to be a man (inwardly), being true to oneself, the bridging of differences and differing father-son expectations are part of this multi-layered, invigorating musical.
Sure, one could argue that sons rebelling against--and defying-- their fathers' expectations is formulaic.
"Kinky Boots" brings to mind the film"Billy Elliot" and its musical adaptation, which is also set in northern England and features a boy acting against his father's and community's expectations. But both shows are life-affirming, energetic, free of preaching and, when performed skillfully, can empower audiences to consider and even change their assumptions.
A talented touring cast, which boasts strong, expressive voices and delivers convincing performances, together with a fine crew, brings this heartfelt, humorous story to pulsating life.
Director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell strikes a nice balance between the high-energy sequences and raunchy humor and the more contemplative, poignant scenes.
Set designer David Rockwell's playing space seamlessly changes from the often dark, obviously old factoy to the glittering world of Lola's nightclub and the runways of the Milan fashion show.
The juxtaposition between the bright, thriving nightlife scenes featuring Lola and her fellow performers and the declining factory is captured skillfully by lighting designer Kenneth Posner. He uses a variety of colors, and some of his choices are confusing, but he also helps focus characters and create mood.
Gregg Barnes' costumes contrast the sexy and risque characters from the working and blue collar folks.
One of them is Don, a short, stout worker with tattoos who, at least outwardly, would seem to fit the definition of a man. He's played with a hard-edged and masculine demeanor by Aaron Walpole, contrasted by J. Harrison Ghee's unapologetically seductive, confident, effeminate Lola, whose ability to lower his voice and roll r's add humor to the role. Ghee also touchingly exposes Lola's vulnerability and unmasks her Lola to reveal a sensitive Simon, the transvestite's real identity.
Adam Kaplan creates a multi-faceted Charlie, making him at appropriate times insecure, confident, despondent, harried, determined and likable.
What emerges, through song and dialogue, is a vivid portrait of a torn, young, likable, driven man who wants to succeed.
"Kinky Boots" is like a refreshing, invigorating rush of ocean air, but it also will force you to rethink your assumptions and consider expanding your world.

IF YOU GO
WHAT: "Kinky Boots"
WHEN: The tour stops in Cincinnati from Jan. 5-17 and Cleveland from Aug. 23-28. For more information, including ticket prices, visit kinkybootsthemusical.com/tour.php and www.playhousesquare.org