Kinky Boots – Review – Hull New Theatre

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Kinky Boots – Review

Hull New Theatre, November 2019

by Rachel Howard

Musical-theatre is best known for classics that have been around for years. The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Chicago, Les Misérables and Blood Brothers are just a handful of shows that have been gracing stages all over the world for many years. Every few years a new one pops up and is either successful enough to ride high alongside those classics – or sinks pretty quickly without trace. Kinky Boots is definitely the former.

Based on the 2005 British film of the same name, itself inspired by an episode of the BBC documentary ‘Trouble at the Top’, the musical is based on a true story and opened on Broadway in 2013 followed by the West End in 2015.

The smash-hit team behind the show includes the superstar Cyndi Lauper, who wrote the music and lyrics, and Harvey Fierstein who wrote the book of the musical. This stellar partnership is one of the main factors behind the show’s success and the fact it is now out on the road in its first UK tour. Having missed the show during its West End run, I’m excited to take my seat at Hull New Theatre and see if it can hold its own among the big guns of the musical world.

For those unfamiliar with the storyline, Kinky Boots follows the fortunes of Charlie Price, a young man who has just inherited a shoe factory from his father in Northampton. Unfortunately, Charlie is not in the slightest bit interested in the shoe industry, and more importantly, the factory is on its last legs. One thing Charlie is interested in, however, is people, and finding it hard to even think about letting his staff go, he decides to try and save the factory. Just as his ideas are starting to run out, he meets Lola – a larger than life drag queen performer from London who inspires the idea that might just save the shoe factory – specially made and reinforced ‘kinky boots’ for drag queens.

kinky boots review hull new theatre november 2019 cast

“Show-stopping performance”

From the moment the curtain goes up, this show is a feel-good explosion of colour and top-notch cast performances. Within a few minutes I’m hooked and can understand why it is a Tony and Olivier award winner – multiple times over. The star of the show is undoubtedly Kayi Ushe, who plays the role of Lola. Managing to successfully walk a fine line between playing the outrageous drag queen and the sensitive, somewhat damaged soul under the wig and make-up, Ushe brings to the stage charisma, power, vulnerability and stage presence – everything you could possibly want from your leading star. I feel like he was born for this role, he’s an absolute powerhouse.

Charlie Price is portrayed fantastically by Joel Harper-Jackson. On the surface, he’s the complete antithesis of Lola. He’s a dependable, dare I say boring, chap who starts the show very much under the thumb of his girlfriend Nicola. But as we get to know Charlie, we soon realise there is a lot more passion to the man than first thought. The show-stopping performance of ‘Not My Father’s Son’, sung by both Charlie and Lola, not only showcases the sheer talent of these two performers, but also demonstrates the similarities of the two, otherwise very different, characters. Both were brought up in the shadows of their fathers, steered down paths they never wanted for themselves, and have battled to be seen for who they really are ever since.

Instrumental in Charlie finding his feet in life is Lauren, one of the factory girls, played by former Coronation Street star, Paula Lane. I am really impressed not only by Lane’s voice, but also her comic timing. I wouldn’t hesitate to say the stage is where she belongs, she is a joy to watch.

The set is effective and includes clever use of conveyor belts not only for the factory scenes, but also as props for the dancers – it is a novel touch and one I think works particularly well.

kinky boots review hull new theatre november 2019 cast

“Outrageous and fabulous”

Speaking of dancers, no review of Kinky Boots would be complete without mention of the Angels. Lola is often joined on stage by the Angels – six fellow drag queens who are part of her cabaret performance at a London drag club. The talent of these singers and dancers is extraordinary, and the sparkle, glamour and extravagance they bring to the stage really takes the show up a notch.

The costumes, designed by Gregg Barnes, are as outrageous and fabulous as you would hope, but it is of course the boots that really stand out – and so they should. As someone who can confidently walk and dance in a pair of heels, these boots are something else… having tried a pair on at the interval I can confirm they are about 7 inches high and pretty much impossible to walk in, never mind dance! Just another reason to put your hands together for this very talented cast!

The phrase “feel-good musical” is banded about a lot in the world of theatre, but this really is an excellent example of a show that not only makes you laugh, jump out of your seat for a dance, but also has that all important moral behind the story – in this case, accept everyone for who they are – no questions asked.

It may well have finished its West End run, but I’m certain Kinky Boots will be around for many years to come. Pop your heels on and get yourself to your nearest showing, it’ll be sure to put a spring in your step.

images: Helen Maybanks

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