Kinky Boots – Review – Sheffield Lyceum

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Kinky Boots – Review

Sheffield Lyceum, June 2019

by Eve Luddington

Kinky Boots won five Tony awards when it was first performed on Broadway in 2012. The West End production, also showered with accolades, has come to Sheffield Lyceum on its first UK tour. And what a feast of musical theatre it is.

Based on the British film of 2005 which was inspired by unlikely but true events, the show tells the story of a shoe factory in Northamptonshire. When Charlie Price reluctantly inherits it from his father, it’s on its uppers, close to collapse. An unusual solution presents itself when Charlie meets Lola, a drag queen and cabaret performer; the factory will make ‘kinky boots’ for men who dress in women’s clothes.

In the best tradition of musicals, Harvey Fierstein’s book and Cyndi Lauper’s songs pepper an uplifting story with moments of poignancy, with a panache that makes a predictable plotline seem fresh. They make great play of the contrast between the ‘ordinary’ factory folk and the flamboyant drag queen, Lola, who saves their jobs and shatters their prejudices.

kinky boots review sheffield lyceum june 2019 Paula Lane

Paula Lane as Lauren in Kinky Boots

“Pizzazz and flourish”

The designers of scene, lighting and costume have a field day, too. The basic set is the factory floor, with brick walls, vast windows and an elevated office which speak of its Victorian heritage. When Lola and her fellow drag performers, The Angels, explode onto the scene with skimpy, sexy costumes and enormous heels, we’re suddenly in a dazzling world of colour and glitz, complete with shimmering curtain of scarlet lameta. As their first song proclaims, it’s ‘The Land of Lola’.

Inherently theatrical, the drag acts in this production are performed with pizzazz and flourish although their dance routines are standard ‘show-girl’ fare. Overall, Jerry Mitchell’s choreography is quite repetitive but his direction is polished and imaginative, and each member of the exuberant, talented company has a well-developed character, named or not.

kinky boots review sheffield lyceum june 2019 Kayi Ushe

Kayi Ushe as Lola

“Emotional depth”

But the spirit of the show is dependent on the actor playing Lola, an out-and-proud poseur, full of innuendo, gutsy when challenged. Kayi Ushe is magnificent. He’s an entirely credible, suave and quick-witted diva who ‘wouldn’t trust me to babysit a cactus.’ Yet, when Lola is provoked into ‘fisticuffs’, Ushe is equally believable as a trained boxer. His presence and movement are captivating. His vast musical range is beautifully controlled: he can belt it out with ‘Sex is in the Heel’ and bring affecting pathos to ‘I’m Not My Father’s Son.’ Lola is in charge of the action and Ushe is in charge of the production.

Charlie was played, with less than an hour’s notice before curtain-up, by Joshua St Clair who’s usually one of the understudies playing a smaller role. It was a great achievement. St Clair gave an assured and honest performance, bringing emotional depth to the character. He embodied the decent, ordinary bloke – in grey serge trousers – drawn reluctantly into managing the factory who develops a passion for producing ‘kinky boots’ and then nearly wrecks the whole endeavour with a fit of hubris. One of the highlights of the show was his heartfelt rendering of ‘Soul of a Man’.

kinky boots review sheffield lyceum june 2019 cast

The cast of Kinky Boots

“Ends on a high”

Paula Lane is a comic delight as Lauren, a girl-next-door type who falls for her boss, Charlie. Adam Price has a gift of a part as the ‘salt of the earth’ ageing factory foreman who’s excited and revitalised by the revolution that is Lola. He plays it to the hilt, with warmth and wit. Demitri Lampra is very effective as the bigoted Don, ensuring that we laugh at the character’s offensive remarks and cheer him when he’s transformed.

Inevitably, the show ends on a high with a full company routine, proclaiming the message, ‘Raise You Up/Just Be’. It’s intended to leave us with smiles on our faces and goodwill in our hearts. At this Lyceum performance, it brought us to our feet, cheering.

images: Helen Maybanks

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