Review: Kinky Boots UK Tour

Original review for the Reviews Hub

Kinky Boots UK Tour Bristol

As tough, worthy, and well-tailored as a pair of Price and Sons’ shoes 

‘Trust your feet in Price and Son, our work is tried and true: practical, pragmatical, steadfast, and steady, too’: so echoes the omnipresent theme of Price and Sons shoe factory, yet this musical is as far from practical and pragmatic as the magnificent shoes it manufactures. With music and lyrics from legendary musician Cyndi Lauper and adapted by Harvey Fierstein from the 2005 film, Kinky Boots is a musical with leather, lace, legacy, and hopes as high as its heels.

Charlie Price’s father leaves him with some very large, old-fashioned shoes, and the underperforming, ‘practical, pragmatic, and steadfast’ factory – intimidatingly industrial in David Rockwell’s well-worn, multi-levelled set – to fill. As Lola, a stylish, deliciously witty drag queen, struts into this dated, industrial, dogmatic world, she sets it alight with sequins and dancing, yet is as unsteady as Price and Sons’ outmoded men’s shoes are steady in stilettos not designed for feet of her width or weight. Seeing an opportunity to serve an ‘underserved niche’ in the footwear industry, it’s in a pair of sturdy, outlandishly stylish shoes that an unexpected friendship develops between straitlaced, lost Charlie and extroverted yet equally adrift Lola.

Yet, the soul of the show isn’t in its shoes. Charlie and Lola share a feeling that they are sons their fathers wouldn’t be proud of, and, like Lola without her powder and drag performance, it’s where the show lets us see its softer side. The simplicity of ‘Not My Father’s Son’, a lyrical lament for the ‘image’ their father’s ‘dreamed of’, is why it’s so dramatically effective: Kayi Ushe’s dignified and alluring Lola is stripped of her glamorous armour in favour of an unadorned suit to ‘fit in’ at the factory, and stranded far from the solace of drag’s lights and greasepaint in front of the factory’s dingy gents’ toilet. De-wigged and defenceless under Kenneth Posner’s focused lighting, Lola’s dreams, fears, and disappointments are not so different from Charlie’s, even if he, played with charm by Joel Harper-Jackson, disguises his flaws and failings with a more traditionally virile façade. Lola isn’t alone in feeling ‘proud just to live out loud’.

And in the ‘Land of Lola’, she and the show live out loud. The performance is as fast-moving and fancy-free as Jerry Mitchell’s flashy choreography, with the first act finale a triumphant full-company performance, transforming the factory into a catwalk for the first pair of shoes. And, with or without those heels, Lola’s Angels – Connor Collins, John J. Dempsey, Damon Gould, Joshua Lovell, Chileshé Mondelle & Toyan Thomas-Browne – light up the stage every time they grace it, glittering in Gregg Barnes’s outrageous outfits and Josh Marquette’s larger-than-life wigs.

With compelling comic performances from Adam Price’s camp factory manager, Demitri Lampra’s forcefully parochial foreman Don, and Paula Lane’s witty, off-the-wall Lauren, the company, and the musical, are as tough, worthy, and well-tailored as a pair of Price and Sons’ shoes.

Bristol Hippodrome – 26th February 2019; invited to review for the Reviews Hub; cast: Joel Harper-Jackson, Kayi Ushe & Paula Lane; image: Helen Maybanks; Kinky Boots UK Tour

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