Kinky Boots – Review – Leeds Grand

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Kinky Boots – Review

Leeds Grand, April 2019

by Gail Schuster

Having previously enjoyed the Kinky Boots film, my expectations were high for a fabulous night at Leeds Grand. The show is staged in industrial Northamptonshire at a shoe factory, ‘Price and Son’, which has fallen on hard times. It is clear from the set designed by David Rockwell, that the business has known better times from the ‘PS’ monogrammed windows on the front, but now it is all a bit shabby; one of the signs has been broken but not replaced, pride in the company has obviously gone.

The music and lyrics for Kinky Boots were written by Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Award-winning singer songwriter Cyndi Lauper who was the first solo woman to win Best Original Score in 2013. One song which particularly stands out, and where I could hear Lauper’s style was ‘The History of Wrong Guys’ by unlucky-in-love shoe-packer, Lauren. This is a great pop number, sung by Paula Lane, who played Kylie Platt in Coronation Street. Lane performs the song about failed relationships beautifully, whilst at one point singing into a shoe.

kinky boots review leeds grand april 2019 cast

“Charismatic performance”

Charlie (Joel Harper-Jackson), the owner of the factory, and Lola (Kayi Ushe) have a chance meeting one evening, when the singer is being hounded by two men. They go to the Blue Angel Club where Lola, a cross-dressing man performs. There, Lola invites him to the ‘Land of Lola’, where one should “Leave expectations at the door” and “Step into a dream, where glamour is extreme.” Offering to fix the broken heel on Lola’s boot, which Lola quips are: “Expensive boots, cheaply made”, he finds a way of saving his factory, and the bond between them is formed.

There is clever use of scenery by director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell throughout the production but particularly to the song ‘Everybody say Yeah’, which is a high energy, uplifting number, with the cast dancing on conveyor belts in the factory. It brought a wonderful positive end to the first half.

As in all relationships, the road is not a smooth one. Charlie’s first attempt at making a boot does not go well, a block heeled, burgundy affair with no hint of sexiness about it whatsoever. Lola puts him right in the song, ‘The sex is in the heel’ urging Charlie to just embrace it. Ushe is joined in this number by the ‘Angels’, other drag queens from the club, and the result is a vibrant, powerful scene. The leading man gives a robust, charismatic performance as the sassy, high heeled Lola and yet demonstrates vulnerability when he is Simon. Throughout the production he is given some punchy one liners, which he delivers with aplomb and to great comedic affect.

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“Touching message”

Joel Harper-Jackson also gives a strong performance as unwilling factory owner Charlie, whose character develops from being a young man with no real purpose in his life, into a business man with drive and passion. His rendition of ‘Soul of a Man’ when he is at a low point emotionally and professionally, is endearingly heartfelt. Despite the ups and downs in Charlie and Lola’s relationship, and the differences in their life choices, they have much in common. One song which portrays that well is the moving, ‘Not My Father’s Son’ which emphasises how they are both victims of their fathers’ aspirations and expectations, a touching message amongst all the glitz.

Gregg Barnes designed the costumes for the production and must have had fun doing so, especially the costumes for the Angels in Milan, which were a triumph. The finale, to the disco beat song, ‘Raise You Up/Just Be’ is a riot of colour and a wonderful climax to a heart-warming, inspiring musical.

In a show which highlights and challenges people’s expectations, mine were exceeded, and the cast received a well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd.

images: Helen Maybanks

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