Amongst the many things that I brought away from this showstopper of a musical, Harvey Fierstein’s fabulously crafted storyline and Cyndi Lauper’s extraordinary music and lyrics were a perfect justification for women, (“men, and those who are yet to decide”) worldwide that every outfit is never truly complete without a pair of heels. And the kinkier, the better.
With its first appearance being on the big screen in 2005, followed by its transformation to a Broadway and West End production, Kinky Boots is relatively new to the theatre scene at a time when the story couldn’t be more relevant. The musical, inspired by true events, follows the story of its two protagonists, Charlie Price (played by Jordan Fox), and Lola (played by Simon Anthony Rhoden) as they battle between the opportunity for self-discovery, and their fathers’ haunting expectations of them. Charlie Price, son of Mr Price who manages the family business of shoe manufacturing business Price & Son, is plummeted into his father’s managerial role following his father’s death. And if filling his father’s shoes isn’t terrifying enough, he must also face the impending issue of the company’s sales’ decline. This is where Lola steps in to help (with absolutely no subtly about it). The audience were treated to a heart warming glimpse of Lola as a young boy coming to terms with his sexuality in the opening number of the show ‘The Most Beautiful Thing in the World” in which he features strutting around the stage in a pair of red six-inch stilettos, and what an impressive job he does of it (much better than I, a 19-year-old girl with lots of practice walking in heels could!).
Whilst the start of the production bounces between the soft vocals of young Charlie (Elliott Rose) and his father (Antony Reed) in the opening number, the energy-rich vocals of the chorus, and the country vibes of ‘Take What You Got’, it is Lola’s dazzlingly vibrant arrival to the plot which brings extravagance, glitz and glam to the stage. Charlie and Lola’s first encounter takes place in the street when Lola humorously uses one of her heels to deter a gang of men and, in the process of doing so, damages the shoe. This broken shoe and desperate shoemaker provide a perfectly unusual plot for a musical.
The show’s stand-out number for me, which truly championed the pride and uniqueness of the production, was ‘Land of Lola’ which featured Lola (phenomenal vocals) and his six fellow drag queens, The Angels, perform with absolute sass and panache. For Charlie, a drag show is a display which he could never have imagined himself an audience member to, nonetheless it is this triumph of female identity which convinces him, with a gentle nudge from factory worker Lauren (Verity Rushworth), that an explosion of colour and leap towards a completely new consumer market may be the only thing capable of saving the dark, old factory from going bankrupt. But first… his employees at the factory require a little convincing. When Lola visits the Northampton factory to collect her broken heel, she finds herself faced by the judgement likes of the factory males, most notably Don (Alan Mehdizadeh) whom Lola challenges, and purposefully loses, a boxing match to. This scene was a fabulous display of the company’s collaboration, with the toned leg of one of The Angels and a piece of elastic used to create a very realistic boxing ring. It was at this point in the story that Lola’s renowned number ‘Sex Is In The heel’ also took the spotlight, resulting in a sprinkling of giggles throughout the audience.
A particular theatrical strength of this show was the use of soliloquies and breaking of the fourth wall which the show’s producer used to illustrate some of the characters' internal conflicts. Most memorably, Lauren’s solo ‘The History of Wrong Guys’, which revealed her crush on her boss, Charlie, and Charlie’s own soliloquies displaying his growing desire to save his father’s business at the expense of his deteriorating relationship with his fiancé Nicola, were particularly innovative.
In terms of set and costumes there is very little to fault. The company made a consistently creative use of the production’s set which, at one of the most animated moments in the production for me, featured the use of the factory’s production conveyor belt as four separate moving, treadmill-eque platforms during the final musical number of Act One ‘Everybody Say Yeah’. Likewise, the costumes, despite appearing quite dull to begin with (as you’d expect the everyday work attires of factory colleagues to be) were an absolute game-changer for the production- with its array of sequins, explosion of colour and quirky designs putting even some of the boldest trends of the eighties to shame. The production’s penultimate scene, which took place on the catwalk of the Milan fashion show, was a triumph of these impressive costume designs, not forgetting the final number of the show ‘Raise You Up’ which witnessed every cast member (the most masculine of the males included) wearing their own, unique pair of knee-length heeled boots (amazing!).
The production was ultimately an ingenious display of not only drag queen culture, but the entire concept of freedom of expression and identity. As Lola puts it herself “One never knows what joy one might find amongst the unwanted”: a moral manifested entirely by the unlikely bonds which blossom between the various characters within the play. Fierstein and Lauper’s production was a necessary reminder that we should welcome individuality and expressiveness with open arms, as you never know what wisdom may lie beneath the cover of some people.