Kinky Boots (Michael Cassel by special arrangement with Daryl Roth and Hal Luftig in association with Cameron Mackintosh)
QPAC, Lyric Theatre
August 22 – October 22
“Kinky Boots” is a model of the modern major musical… spirited, triumphant and touching, with a stirring message regarding equal rights, identity and acceptance, that both advocates and stands as evidence of creativity as change agent. As such, the Tony Award winning musical brings Broadway to Brisbane boots and all with a superb cast and soaring score … and the result is simply sensational!
The story, adapted from 2005 movie (itself based on a true story), takes places in a British working class setting not unlike that of “Billy Elliot”. To workers in the long-established Northampton, England shoe factory Price & Son, a shoe is (according to the show’s opening number) ‘The Most Beautiful Thing’. But business is failing when, as the fourth-generation ‘son’ in the business, Charlie Price (Toby Francis) finds himself recalled from a new life in London after his father’s death.
As the factory’s now insecure owner, Charlie tries to live up to his father’s legacy, but is almost ready to accept defeat, until a chance meeting with drag queen Lola (Callum Francis), reveals a niche market that could save the factory… kinky boots for women who just happen to be men, beginning with a custom pair of red (not burgundy) ones for Lola herself because whatever Lola wants, Lola is likely to get. As Charlie and Lola work to bring the factory back from the brink of bankruptcy, the unlikely duo discover that they have more in common than they thought. As such, the show become more than just a formulaic story of underdog triumph, as it celebrates friendship, love and self-belief.
Helping cement the sentiment at show’s heart is Cyndi Lauper’s award winning score, which moves the narrative along while also capturing the story’s emotional extremes. Tapestried together, the range of songs work wonderfully. Highlights include the electric disco anthem ‘Sex is in the Heel’, performed by drag club headliner Lola and her backup ‘angels’ troupe of drag dancers as they try to explain the importance of sex appeal to Charlie and his factory workers, and the touching ballad, ‘I’m Not My Father’s Son’. The emotionally, affecting duet sees Lola (with introduction of her birth name Simon) lament the torment of being his own man and Charlie reflect on his attempt to disassociate himself from his father’s legacy, highlighting the similarities of the characters’ complex feelings and also the chemistry between the two leads.
Callum Francis is outstanding as the unashamedly outrageous, but also quietly vulnerable, Lola and it is easy to understand his win of the 2017 Helpman Award for Best Actor in a Musical. Not only does his dynamic performance engender an immediate rapport with the audience but his powerhouse vocals are absolutely on-point. Toby Francis, is charming as Charlie, the everyman alongside effervescent Lola. His vocals add lovely layers to ballads and upbeat numbers alike, making songs like Act Two’s ‘Soul of a Man’, in which he struggles with the weight of his father’s legacy, at-once heartfelt and powerful. There is plenty of comedy too, not just through Lola’s sassy comebacks but from Sophie Wright’s nuanced performance as feisty factory worker Lauren who longs for Charlie’s love. And her ‘The History of Wrong Guys’ number is perfect in its exploit of every comic opportunity.
Every aspect of “Kinky Boots” is on-point. Kenneth Posner’s lighting design easily transforms the stage from industrial factory to the fabulous, flamboyant land of Lola, allowing for full appreciation of Jerry Mitchell’s inventive choreography. And John Shivers’ sound design ensure that its musical theatre and pop soundtrack blend seamlessly.
As co-creator Harvey Fierstein has said, “Kinky Boots” is a joyous show, sure to leave you overwhelmed with happiness. Not only is there lots of colour and movement, but an overarching, uplifting message about how you can change the world if you change your mind, realised in the rousing full company finale, ‘Raise You Up/Just Be’ when the factory’s collection of boots hits the runway in Milan. Indeed, its drama, humour and pathos make it big-hearted entertainment of the highest calibre, making it a force of nature, not to be missed.
Photos c/o – Matthew Murphy