Review: Kinky Boots UK Tour – Fabulous, fun and FULL of sass

Kinky Boots UK Tour Company: Photo by Helen Maybanks

Performance Date: 30 January 2019

Venue: Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent

Until recently Kinky Boots was a stalwart of the West End scene and a familiar fixture as any in theatreland. It was a bold decision then to announce that on 12 January 2019 the show would close in London. While the West End cast was taking their final bow, the UK tour was in full swing having kicked off (rather fittingly) in Northampton back in September.

Based on the 2005 British film of the same name starring Joel Edgerton (Red Sparrow) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) Kinky Boots is inspired by a true story, the musical, written by Harvey Fierstein (best known for his adaptation of La Cage Aux Folles) tells the story of Charlie Price, the sole (pun intended) heir of a struggling Northampton shoe factory.

With music and lyrics by Cindi Lauper, Kinky Boots is a feast for the eyes, ears and senses; it transferred seamlessly from screen to stage thanks in no small part to Lauper’s soundtrack. The show enjoyed over 1400 performances in London and also a mainstay on Broadway had been an out an out hit since its West End debut in 2015. Winner of 6 Tony awards including Best Musical and 3 Olivier Awards, Kinky Boots has cemented itself as a theatre classic.

Having witnessed opening night at the Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, it is safe to say that Kinky Boots has made a triumphant transition to touring production.

Instilled in him at an early age that a shoe is ‘the most beautiful thing in the world’ Charlie Price (Joel Harper-Jackson) shuns Price and Son for the bright lights of London and the whims of his pushy and materialistic fiancée. After his father’s death and inheriting the loss-making factory, Charlie is faced with having to lay off the staff he has known since boyhood. A chance encounter with the fabulously flamboyant and larger than life drag queen Lola (Kayi Ushe) offers a ‘kinky’ solution to the factory’s woes offering the desperately needed niche market.       

Stoke local Joel Harper-Jackson was making his debut at the Regent Theatre as a leading man has worked front of house 10 years ago. Harper-Jackson’s performance is charming and endearing and he delivers a high energy performance that does not hold back. However, it is solo number Soul of a Man that is Harper-Jackson’s defining moment. The execution is outstanding and he performs the song with incredible power and emotion that reverberates around the auditorium.

Kayi Ushe breathes new life into the role of Lola. He is an incredibly dynamic performer with show-stopping vocals and an incredible stage presence. His ensemble numbers with the Angels (who are simply fabulous) are drag extravaganzas, complete with outrageously fabulous costumes and wonderful choreography. When stripped back Ushe shines, and he performs Hold me in Your Heart with a palpable vulnerability.

On the surface Charlie and Lola could not be more different, however the two bond through their inability and regret at being unable to aspire to their fathers’ expectations. Harper-Jackson and Ushe’s chemistry is believable and at times electric, they complement each other in droves. Their duet of the beautiful ballad Not my Father’s Son is gorgeous in its delivery culminating as Lola introducing himself to Charlie (from Northampton) as Simon, from Clacton. Not only do they sound fantastic together they also bounce off each other superbly throughout the show. Ushe beautifully conveys Lola’s confidence when protected by a wall of makeup and how exposed Simon feels when that protection is taken away.

Paula Lane takes on the role of lovable Lauren and does so with style. Her solo, The History of Wrong Guys is laugh out loud hilarious and she brings some highly amusing comedic interludes into proceedings.

Despite some dubious accents, the wider cast is also strong; Demitri Lampra is excellent as the bigoted Don who provides the most resistance to the factory’s new direction.  Adam Price brings wonderful warmth to the role of George. Lizzie Bea and Nikki Evans come into their own as Pat and Trish, never more so than during the number What a Woman Wants.

Kinky Boots is a high octane production where big and consistent performances are needed night after night, the level of energy required to sustain such a tempo cannot be underestimated and the cast meet that challenge with aplomb.

Although relatively simple, the staging for Kinky Boots is utilised incredibly effectively. Through David Rockwell’s scenic design and Kenneth Posner’s lighting Price’s comes to life with the moving factory conveyor belts cleverly incorporated into the choreography. The combination of the staging, the vibrancy of the costumes and the toe-tapping soundtrack make for a visual and auditory sensation which does not let up.

As Kinky Boots sashays its way across the UK, it will no doubt bring delight to swathes of audiences if the reaction of the Regent Theatre is anything to go by. Behind the stilettos, glitter and the insanely catchy soundtrack, Kinky Boots is a story of acceptance with an overriding message that ‘you change the world when you change your mind’ Kinky Boots is a lesson in tolerance, love and friendship.

Fabulous, fun and full of sass – Kinky Boots plays at the Regent Theatre until 9 February.

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