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Battle Acts: Elton John vs. Kinky Boots 

Who will Tucson's LGBTQ community give their "underserviced niche market" dollars?

click to enlarge Like latter-day Liberace, Elton is an institution we take for granted at our own peril …

Like latter-day Liberace, Elton is an institution we take for granted at our own peril …

If you know anything about the Broadway musical Kinky Boots, which won a half-dozen of the Tonys it was nominated for back in '13, its storyline centers on a failing shoe factory's attempt to cater to an "under-serviced niche market," in this case, quality footwear for transvestites. Now, what other niche market can you name that's more under-serviced that the LGBTQ folk in Tucson, who can go months without so much as a Ricki Martin sighting? And now, this month they have two of the biggest LGBTQ champions battling it out for your entertainment dollar.

From March 14—19, the national touring company of Kinky Boots, the 2013 Tony Award winning Best Musical with a book by Harvey Fierstein and a score by Cyndi Lauper comes to the Centennial Hall. Two nights after it completes its run, Elton John comes to Tucson Arena for one night only, his first Old Pueblo appearance in seven years. Mezzanine seats for Kinky Boots can easily approach the $400-500 range, while floor seats for Sir Elton easy go for $500-600 dollars a ticket. Ouch! I'm still standing, but less looking like a true survivor and feeling more like Scarlett O'Hara fanning herself before a faint-plant!

Sure, more of the excitement and attention is on the side of Kinky Boots and its overt messages of acceptance and equality at a time when the voices of intolerance could really use a drowning out. But where does that leave the man who once declared "I am the most well-known homosexual in the world"? Didn't he volunteer to talk to Vladimir Putin about LGBT equality issues in Russia last year? Vlad actually agreed to meet with him but still hasn't (he probably just wanted to know if "Nikita" was about Khrushchev).

Hasn't Elton's AIDS foundation raised $200 million these past 25 years in support of HIV programs in 55 countries? Hasn't he feuded with Madonna long enough for your catty amusement? And then, after making peace with Madge, he goes and names her rival Lady Gaga the godmother of his children! Surely drama like this hasn't existed since Dynasty left the airwaves. Not to mention his brief boycott of designers Dolce & Gabbana for calling his two in-vitro-fertilized children "synthetic." Anytime a designer uses terms like synthetic, you know them's fighting words.

Like latter-day Liberace, Elton is an institution we take for granted at our own peril, especially after a year like 2016, where we lost more taken-for-granted rock veterans than Angela Lansbury loses old-school chums on a Murder She Wrote episode. Having already been enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame years ago and having already enjoyed several revivals in popularity, you might think you've already done our due diligence for Elton, who continues to grind out albums that radio won't play and fans won't buy. Have you ever seen a release by a major artist that looked more like a cheap concert bootleg than Elton's last studio album, Crazy Wonderful Night, right down to its boring Helvetica lettering? I can't believe he didn't throw a tiara and a t-square at someone over that.

Elton is no stranger to the world of musicals, having collaborated with lyricist Tim Rice on two musicals at the behest of Walt Disney, The Lion King and Aida. There's enough pathos, bathos and drama in the Elton John catalog to make you think that maybe there's another musical in him, a splashier one which could make a bigger LGBT statement than pounding a red piano and following Celine Dion in Vegas. And one that utilizes the blueprint handily provided by Kinky Boots. Can you feel the love tonight? Aww, just you wait!

"Price & Son" vs. "Levon"
Kinky Boots' main protagonist Charlie Price grows up as the fourth-generation "son" in his family business, Price & Son, a shoe factory in Northampton. Bored by the prospect of making shoes the rest of his life, he goes to London to work in real estate but returns when his father unexpectedly dies.

Unexpectedly? This same generational father and son struggle is already the plot line behind "Levon," minus the profligate platforms. Levon's thriving family business selling cartoon balloons is going like gangbusters but Levon's no-good son Jesus refuses to keep tradition with the family plan. No, he'd rather utilize one of those balloons to sail away to Venus and get an aerial vantage point from which to watch while "Levon, Levon slowly dies." No inheritance for you, Jesus! Toss in a couple of cross-dressing cartoon balloon characters and we're halfway into Tony territory.

"Sex is In The Heels" vs. "Who Wears These Shoes"
You've got to give it up for Cyndi Lauper. Having to write a whole score of songs mostly about shoes would probably try even the patience of Thom McAn but she pulled it off. Every major Kinky Boots character has a strong opinion and at least one song about their foot fetishism. Cyndi is no stranger to cool shoes—remember her Vincent Van Gogh undersoles on the rear sleeve of She's So Unusual? Sure, but who has done more for crazy shoes in rock than Elton? Just Google "Elton" and "shoes" and you'll see more platforms and crazy boots with EJ initials on them than you will ever care to see, unless maybe you're the Earl of Jelicoe and could use a few inches on the bottom. Elton, who has been known to spend $18,000 on custom shoes at a pop, has only one really big shoe song in his catalog, unless you want to count "Heels of the Wind," a cut so deep in the Elton catalog it shouldn't in theory even exist. (It's on The Fox, the first of his worst-ever selling albums.) And "Who Wears These Shoes" isn't even really about the shoes, it's more about being insanely jealous of his successor—kind of like "Two Silhouettes on the Shade" rewritten for shoegazers. With no mention of neither bootcraft nor booty!

But Elton and his licentious lifts were a partial inspiration to Lauper, who told the Huffington Post, "I'm so grateful that he wrote that song 'Tiny Dancer' because it touched my heart and sprinkled a little fairy dust on me, and made it possible for me to stand up again at times when I felt crushed."

So maybe make "Tiny Dancer" about a height-challenged hoofer, add in some in-the-closet queen ballerina backstory and we've weaved another proven hit into our prospective Elton musical. Now all we need is a real splashy diva? Where are we gonna get one of those?

"Land of Lola" vs. "The Bitch Is Back"
There's no doubt that the character of Lola, as originated by Billy Porter on Broadway, is Kinky Boots' showstopper. She has all the funny lines, has all the attitude and sings the most emotional numbers, the true embodiment of someone who raises Cain and spits in your eye. ("I'm Black Jesus, I'm Black Mary /But this Mary's legs are hairy/I'm your Cocoa Butter Bitch/Not just cookie cutter kitsch.") I believe a similar showstopper could be based on this badass Elton song. OK, forget about the eating meat of Friday thing, nobody cares about that, especially since The New York Times said God was dead on "Levon." But do believe he can bitch because he's better than you. Imagine turning Elton partner David Furnish's documentary Tiara and Tantrums and build a musical built around that guy who curses out personal assistants, security guards and paparazzi. And of course speaks out about marriage equality and loo legislation!

"What a Woman Wants" vs. "Texas Love Song" or "In This Corner" vs. "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting"
Homophobia rears its head in Act Two of Kinky Boots when Lola locks antlers with Don, the shoe factory's true homo-hating heel. In order to prove the true measure of a man (the last time I will ever reference a Clay Aiken song, I promise), he challenges Lola to step into the ring and settle it once and for all. Although "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" is full of a lot of faux macho violence, "Texas Love Song" comes closest to a Bernie Taupin character saying the f-word that rhymes with maggot. It's a redneck running down long-haired hippies and their drug-crazy music, but it could easily be tweaked to include even more intolerance. If anyone has felt the sting of homophobia it's Elton, whose career in the States went into a sharp decline when he admitted to being bisexual. Somehow his chart fortunes rebounded when he stayed married to a woman for three years and started dressing like Truman Capote.

"Raise You Up" vs. "I'm Still Standing"
Like Kinky Boots' finale, this Elton survival anthem could take a Broadway musical audience out on a high note, despite being a post-breakup, how-dare-you-try-to-destroy-me kind of song. Just remember, underestimate Elton John and "You'll wind up like the wreck you hide behind that mask you use." Love whichever act or whomever you wish but just remember, "If love was a circus, you'd be a clown by now."


More by Serene Dominic

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