Kinky Boots (Online review)

Kinky Boots (Online review)

After seven consecutive days of watching and reviewing Christmas related fare, I thought I would give myself a break with something different. Not that, as it turned out, what I watched was short of glitz and glitter. The latest show to air on The Shows Must Go On is Kinky Boots which hit the London stage in 2015. Based on a true story about a shoe factory in Northampton and first developed as a (non-musical) film, it seems an unlikely tale for two Americans to develop into a full-blown stage show. But as those two were Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper, it all starts to make a bit more sense.

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Charlie inherits his father’s shoe factory and a heap of financial difficulties. He has a chance encounter with drag queen Lola (aka Simon from Clacton) and realises there is a gap in the market and thus an opportunity to turn the business’s fortunes around. He will make footwear for Lola and fellow performers and corner an otherwise underserved market. He hires Lola as a designer but is Northampton ready for such outrageous flamboyance? Well, of course they’re not but in this sort of feelgood narrative we also know that it is only a question of time before everyone learns multiple life lessons about tolerance and accepting other people for who and what they are. We also know that the business is bound to end up as successful but not before further difficulties have been overcome and disaster averted; “all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well”. In that sense the show is as clichéd as I fear I’m about to be with this simile, so I’ll abandon it now.

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The show provides a knowing contrast between the mundane and rather drab business of making footwear and the camped-up glamour of the drag scene and the two lead performers encapsulate these worlds perfectly. Killian Donnelly as reluctant factory owner Charlie Price presents us with  man rather out of his depth both in his business and personal life.  Meanwhile an Olivier Award winning Matt Henry as Lola/Simon is all raunchy elegance a la Tina Turner or Beyonce; this is, of course, a thin veneer to cover up his insecurities.  They are joined through the experience of their relationships with their respective fathers which, in the way of these things, demonstrates that the two characters are not quite so far apart as they think. Their association teaches them a sense of fortitude and both develop their inner strength throughout proceedings – oh, and they both sing well too.

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It’s a pity that many of the rest of the cast have to play stock figures – the overbearing fiancée (Cordelia Farnworth), the loyal but overlooked wannabe girlfriend (Natalie McQueen), the factory bully/misogynist who undergoes an eleventh hour conversion (Sean Needham) – but there’s no denying they do it very well. There’s also Lola’s troupe of “Angels” six other drag artistes who arrive at climactic moments to fill the stage with outré costumes and plenty of raunchy dancing.

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Fierstein’s book sticks largely to the structure of the original film (I think) and once the music begins you can certainly tell that Lauper is the composer. I thought the opening song was the most successful, which in hindsight was a bit of a pity as the only way from there is downhill. That’s mostly because to my mind there’s a few too many overwrought power ballads accompanied by lots of on-stage emoting. However, Jerry Mitchell’s direction sometimes neatly undercuts expectations as in the scene where Lola is belting out a torch song as though onstage at the Royal Albert Hall only for us to discover the scene is taking place in a Clacton Retirement Home. The final scene on and around a Milan catwalk is a riot of colour and gyrating bodies and I liked the use of the factory production lines as treadmills at the climax of the first half.

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Ultimately, I found I didn’t have any particular huge feelings one way or another about the show, although admittedly the audience seemed to be having a ball  and I’m sure there will be plenty of other devotees too – it seems to be that kind of show. I wasn’t greatly invested in the characters or the situation largely because the outcome was so predictable even without prior knowledge from the film and there wasn’t quite enough in the dialogue, music or choreography (also Jerry Mitchell) to excite the blood; to paraphrase a song from another musical with a book by Fierstein – it is what it is.

Kinky Boots is available today and tomorrow on The Shows Must Go On You Tube channel– click here. After that it can be found on subscription services stage2view – click here – and Broadway HD – click here

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