Review: ‘Kinky Boots the Musical’ at the Leeds Grand Theatre

Kinky Boots 1.jpg
  • Adam Bruce, United Kingdom Critic

Julian Jarrold’s 2005 film ‘Kinky Boots’, written by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth, was a hit with audiences after bringing a heartwarming story of acceptance to the screen against the backdrop of an unusual setting. Eight years later, the film was adapted into a musical and premiered in Chicago before transferring to Broadway and beyond, building on the film’s legacy and becoming a hit in the process. Now, a new regional tour is making its way around the UK, and I managed to catch the show on its stop at the Leeds Grand Theatre.

In case you’re unfamiliar with it, the story of ‘Kinky Boots’ closely follows the plot of the original film, and brings us to Northampton, England where shoemaker’s son Charlie Price (Joel Harper-Jackson) inherits the struggling family business after his father passes away. Left with a factory of workers he’s been tasked with laying off to make ends meet, Charlie feels the pull of a big city escape to London, encouraged by his fiancée Nicola (Helen Ternent) to sell up and move out with her. One night, however, Charlie intervenes in a street fight and rescues drag performer Lola (Kayi Ushe), and ends up offering to repair her shoes, coming up with the idea of creating comfortable women’s shoes able to be worn by drag artists.

What follows is a moving, high-energy piece of musical theatre that grapples with issues ranging from parental expectations to social and personal acceptance. With music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein, ‘Kinky Boots’ is crafted from catchy, heartfelt pop ballads and a text that harmonically combines cheekiness with realistic grit to great effect. As a result, there’s a powerful sense of truth and clarity underpinning the piece, giving it an inviting family-friendly aesthetic whilst dealing with contemporary issues, all of which linger in the audience’s mind long after the curtain falls.

A particular moment that encapsulates this for me is Charlie and Lola’s shared song ‘Not My Father’s Son’, which beautifully weaves our heroine’s backstory with issues of parental expectations in a way that’s almost akin to a Willy Russell composition. While I think a little more work could have been done to integrate the cast’s localised British accents into the melodic twang of the score, of which we can spot the musical’s American origins to an ever so slightly jarring effect, the piece’s sense of place, space and time is otherwise completely clear and allows us to fully engage with the narrative.

Bringing this vibrant piece to life is the exceptional cast, all of whom masterfully portray their roles to craft dynamic characters that brim with unrelenting energy. It would be unjust of me to single out performances amidst this cast, as every member deserves credit and recognition for bringing this bold and outright joyous musical to life. Every member from our primary characters all the way to Lola’s drag queen Angels demonstrates dedication and commitment to the execution of Jerry Mitchell’s direction and choreography, and this execution is done with flair and finesse as our performers carry the piece to soaring heights.

Complementing the excellent performances is a scenography that works exceptionally well at embodying the essence of the piece. David Rockwell’s set design expertly captures a variety of different locations that allow for streamlined storytelling: the Price & Son factory forms the bulk of the set with minimal other set pieces brought in, emphasising the impact of Charlie’s journey on those around him whilst further symbolising his family legacy’s place within his world. Kenneth Posner’s lighting design is dynamic and effective, assisting in the smooth transition of scenes whilst also buttressing the performances; we seamlessly move from the bright warehouse lights of the Price & Son factory to the glitz and glamour of Lola’s performances at the drag club. This results in an emphasis on the stark contrast between our two protagonists and their backgrounds, but ultimately enhances their harmonious union by the end of the narrative.

It’s that last point on harmonious unions that beautifully sums up ‘Kinky Boots’. The harmony between the writer, the composer, the creative team and the cast is a perfect example of how an incredible team can bring a piece to life. But it’s this musical’s narrative and the way it conveys it that will leave your heart full of joy as you embark on a journey with it, engaging with its core tenets of being at one with who you are and being accepting of others. It promotes equality and individuality with style, bags of character and a sense of truth that will leave you with inspiration and a huge smile on your face.

 

‘Kinky Boots’ is at the Leeds Grand Theatre until 20th April before continuing on tour. For more information, tickets and a full cast and creative list, please visit:

http://www.kinkybootsthemusical.co.uk/uk-tour/tour-dates-venues.php