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Kinky Boots – Birmingham Hippodrome

Book: Harvey Fierstein

Music & Lyrics: Cyndi Lauper

Director & Choreographer: Jerry Mitchell

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Kinky Boots is bright, brash and brilliantly enjoyable. Based on the 2005 film of the same name, which was itself inspired by a 1999 BBC documentary, Trouble at the Top, Kinky Boots tells the story of how a traditional Northampton shoe factory reinvents itself by making kinky boots, serving the ‘previously underserved niche market’ of high-quality boots for drag queens.

Charlie is the heir apparent to Price & Son but has no interest in shoes or their manufacture: he and fiancée Nicola dream of a new life together in London. But fate steps in when Charlie’s father dies unexpectedly, throwing Charlie in at the deep end as he’s left in charge. As he looks more closely at the factory, including people he grew up with and whom he considers to be friends and family, he discovers the factory is going to the wall and he will have to let down the workforce and close Price & Son. But a remark from Lauren, one of the assembly line workers, and a chance meeting with Lola, a larger than life drag queen, reinvigorate Charlie and lead him on a crusade to save the factory and to show its range of kinky boots at the international show in Milan.

But can Charlie get the workforce onside? They felt pretty let down when he walked away to be with Nicola. And how will the flamboyant Lola, now engaged as designer, go down with the more traditional workers, as embodied in factory foremen, Don? And, as Milan approaches, can Charlie hold it all together and save Price & Son?

In fact, Kinky Boots the musical isn’t really about saving the factory at all, although the factory is, of course, a big story element; no, it’s about fathers and sons, and the values of inclusivity, mutual respect and tolerance. We go on a journey with these characters as they learn to accept others and themselves; the genius of Kinky Boots is that we become emotionally invested in their fates, urging them on.

The one thing that Kinky Boots needs more than anything is a larger-than-life Lola, and Kayi Ushe more than delivers. As Lola, Ushe is big, loud and overwhelmingly camp; but even at the outset, there is the hint of vulnerability and the need to be accepted – Ushe ensures that this element of Lola is also well served. And when Lola appears on the factory floor in male clothing, his discomfort at being stripped of his protective shell is only too apparent. Yes, Ushe’s performance is quite terrific, over-the-top yet nuanced; his Lola never descends into caricature.

Joel Harper-Jackson brings us Charlie, dominated in turn by his father then by Nicola. His transformation from hapless follower to ‘Can do Charlie’ is believable and moving. And we feel for him as the stress gets to him and he mis-steps; even more so as he tries to get it right. Harper-Jackson and Ushe together are a powerful team.

Demitri Lampra’s Don maybe has the longest journey. Initially hostile towards Charlie, he remains sceptical and finds Lola impossible to understand. But when he gives his loyalty, it is total; the scenes in which his attitudes change are really quite moving.

No production of Kinky Boots is complete without the Angels, Lola’s supporting act of drag queens. Gloriously over the top, they sing and perform intricate choreography, including superb routines using the factory’s moving conveyor belts, always in killer heels. They make the stage a riot of colour and give spirits an immediate lift.

What gives Kinky Boots its heart is the creative team: the writing of Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper coupled with taut, emotionally intelligent direction and choreography from Jerry Mitchell. Its depiction of the odysseys of the factory and all its stakeholders is heartwarming and moving. A remarkable achievement.

Runs Until 23 March 2019 and on tour  | Image: Helen Maybanks

Book: Harvey Fierstein Music & Lyrics: Cyndi Lauper Director & Choreographer: Jerry Mitchell Reviewer: Selwyn Knight Kinky Boots is bright, brash and brilliantly enjoyable. Based on the 2005 film of the same name, which was itself inspired by a 1999 BBC documentary, Trouble at the Top, Kinky Boots tells the story of how a traditional Northampton shoe factory reinvents itself by making kinky boots, serving the ‘previously underserved niche market’ of high-quality boots for drag queens. Charlie is the heir apparent to Price & Son but has no interest in shoes or their manufacture: he and fiancée Nicola dream of…

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

bright, brash and brilliantly enjoyable.

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The Reviews Hub - Central
The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.