Kinky Boots kicks off

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Published: 22nd October, 2016

When a musical wins six Tony awards on Broadway, you can be pretty confident it’s going to be good. Add in the fact that many would-be audiences fell in love with the story in the film of the same name, then the show is likely to be a hit.

That’s the tale of Kinky Boots, which has just opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre.

It’s an interesting combination of a book by theatrical legend Harvey Fierstein and music by 1980s pop princess Cyndi Lauper, and it’s this unusual pairing that gives Kinky Boots a freshness and marks it out as a musical with a difference.

Stylistically, the music is very much of the pop genre, and the cast serves it well. But for me the power is in the message of the show.

Young Charlie Price has inherited his family shoe business but demand for old-fashioned quality is a thing of the past, and the factory and employees are at real risk of disappearing, unless a rabbit can be pulled out of a hat. A chance meeting where Charlie steps in to help a lady in distress from being pummeled by thugs is the catalyst for the story. Because the lady Charlie as helped is actually a glamorous drag queen, Lola, also known as Simon.

As Charlie discovers more about Lola’s world and the discrimination she faces, he quickly realizes that it’s who you are on the inside, not your external face to the world, which determines what sort of human being you are. As he and Lola become firm friends, Lola and her gorgeous gaggle of night club drag queens become the solution to the shoe factory’s future – instead of making sensible brogues that last a life time, the future is in garish but gorgeous oversized boots that can take a drag queen’s weight and perform forever.

There are varying degrees of acceptance of the new direction on the factory floor, but even the most prejudiced and recalcitrant employees eventually discover the importance of accepting people for who they are.

That’s the real power of Kinky Boots, as it challenges set notions of masculinity and being different. These days we call it gender diversity, and Kinky Boots’ message of embracing gender diversity with joy, dance and music, make it a very powerful one. And perhaps we are growing up as a society, as the night I saw Kinky Boots the audience was a typical GP (general public) audience whose ages ranged from the 20-somethings to the 70-somethings, and not a showbiz or drag queen crowd – very much the range of people you would see in your local shopping centre. And the quality of the show and the performances sent them wild, with an enthusiastic standing ovation at the end.

As drag queen Lola, British performer Callum Francis is outstanding. He manages the transition from flamboyant Lola to his subdued alter ego Simon with ease. And he makes every audience member fall at his/her feet due to the charisma of the performance and the lovable nature of his character. Toby Francis (no relation) has the harder straight role of shoe factory inheritor Charlie, but he draws us in to his dilemmas and he is a pleasure to watch, as is the growing friendship and occasional conflict between Charlie and Lola. The show stands on the shoulders of these two young men, and they are more than equal to the task.

Daniel Williston as the boofhead prejudiced factory worker gives a moving performance as he grows through his blinkered viewpoint to embrace Lola and the diversity she represents. Sophie Wright as the lovelorn Lauren charms us and makes us chuckle. I was particularly taken with Nathan Carter’s performance in the foreman role of George, a quirky individual who gradually comes out of his self-imposed closet. Choreography by director Jerry Mitchell is spectacular and a big part of the appeal of the show.

There’s something very warm and wholesome about Kinky Boots – a wonderful way to get a good lesson in the importance of accepting diversity in our fellow human beings. Five star quality!