The “Kinky Boots” national touring company, now at the Kennedy Center Opera House. (Matthew Murphy)

“Kinky Boots” was a perfectly nice little 2005 British film about a black London drag queen named Lola who helps a drab Northampton shoe company find a fabulous new niche. The Broadway adaptation that’s now at the Kennedy Center after pocketing the 2013 Tony Award for best musical is the same feel-good story on a sugar high, glammed up and riding wave after wave of empowering anthems.

“The most beautiful thing in the world,” goes an endlessly repeating refrain in the opening number. That “most beautiful thing” is a shoe, says the small-scale British manufacturer who is about to die unexpectedly, leaving his baffled and disinterested son his struggling factory. But the message that the empowering and uplifting “Kinky Boots” hawks with every beat of its earnest heart is that the most beautiful thing, really, is you.

This means delivering each pearl of humanizing wisdom in block letters and playing characters in the broadest possible terms; the film’s understatement has been replaced with a cheerleading megaphone. At least the musical comes equipped with an appealing original score by 1980s pop queen Cyndi Lauper, who delivers a series of nicely quirky character songs. She also writes terrific club tunes for Lola (J. Harrison Ghee), although the bass is sometimes pumped to such concussive levels in the Opera House that you may think your clothing is flapping in the sonic breeze.

“Kinky Boots” occupies the same shelf as the similarly ­British-set “Billy Elliot” and “The Full Monty,” new millennium fables of coping with lean economic times. David Rockwell’s rough industrial set thoroughly suggests working-class Northampton, as does the range of earthy body types among the cast playing the longtime denizens of the factory. (Lithe, panther-y physiques can be found among the scantily clad gents backing up Lola’s drag act.)

The conservative old shoe ship is sinking, as Charlie Price — played with requisite fretfulness on Wednesday by understudy Zach Adkins — discovers soon after he inherits the place. Charlie’s ambitious fiancee, Nicola (a fashionable and demanding Charissa Hogeland), wants to sell the place and move away. Charlie feels loyal to his dad’s longtime workers, though. After a chance meeting with Lola, inspiration strikes: What if they team up to design great high-heeled boots for men?

Lola shows up at the factory and sings “Sex Is in the Heel” to the wide-eyed workers, some of whom harbor blatant discriminatory feelings against, well, every gender-blurring thing Lola is made to stand for. As everyone gears up for a critical fashion show, even Lola’s ally Charlie lashes out cruelly.


J. Harrison Ghee as the galvanizing Lola in “Kinky Boots.” (Matthew Murphy)

“Accept someone for who they are,” Lola instructs, methodically winning hearts and minds by being tougher and more understanding than the rest. The line drew sustained applause Wednes­day night; no doubt the show has good work to do in our troubled real world.

Even so, this is the kind of standard mechanical device that makes it hard to argue with people who insist that Broadway musicals, rife with push-button jukebox affairs and gaudy movie knockoffs, are largely insufferable. It’s interesting to see “Kinky Boots,” with its book by Harvey Fierstein, during the same week Fierstein’s 1983 “La Cage aux Folles” has been revived across the river by Signature Theatre. Even though “La Cage” was based on a farcical play and movie, it’s infinitely more sincere, thanks in part to Jerry Herman’s proud and winsome score.

With her tunes driven by various combinations of keyboards, guitars and strings (played by just under a dozen musicians), Lauper actually does her part well, especially during Lola’s smoldering, punchy club numbers. It’s within these songs that Ghee’s performance as Lola (given name: Simon) really lifts. Ghee is cool and commanding, coaxing the audience with his mischievous smile and sure singing while absolutely rocking the boots, minidresses and gowns he is given by costume designer Gregg Barnes. The tall Ghee is a fluid mover, and with his trim hips and powerful shoulders, he’s built like a Redskins defensive back.

The show routinely lapses into caricature and clowning, though, most lamentably with Charlie’s second love interest, the perky and awkward Lauren (Tiffany Engen, who seems game but misguided). Jerry Mitchell’s direction and choreography are brisk and lively, including a first act finish that utilizes the factory’s conveyor belts during an athletic dance number. But the project generally feels like it’s coming out of a can, like hairspray.

Kinky Boots, with book by Harvey Fierstein, music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper. Directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell. Musical supervision, arrangements and orchestrations, Stephen Oremus; lights, Kenneth Posner; sound design, John Shivers. About 2½ hours. Through July 10 at the Kennedy Center Opera House. Tickets $49-$199. Call 202-467-4600 or visit www.kennedy-center.org.