REVIEW: ‘Kinky Boots’ UK Tour, Birmingham Hippodrome

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‘Kinky Boots’ UK Tour, Birmingham Hippodrome

  Ladies,

  gentlemen…

  and those yet to make up their minds:

  If you’re looking for the definition of ‘fabulous’, look no further than the touring production of Olivier-Award winning musical, ‘Kinky Boots‘.

  The musical proudly struts into Birmingham, bringing with it enough glitz, glamour, sequins and feathers to make the world a better place.

  When his father dies, the family shoe-manufacturing business falls into the hands of son Charlie Price. With the factory facing closure, however, Charlie finds help in the most unlikely of people, drag Queen Lola.

  The words of Oscar Wilde an early motto of the musical – “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken” – Kinky Boots is a musical that inspires, encourages and empowers everybody to “live out loud” and “let love shine”.

Kinky Boots UK Tour Company. Photo by Helen Maybanks
The cast of Kinky Boots UK Tour. Photo credit: Helen Maybanks

  Stepping into the stilettos of drag Queen and leading lady Lola is West End performer Kayi Ushe. Ushe owns both stage and role with his loud, proud performance and arresting stage presence. Comfortable with his feminine side, and no less of a man as a result, Lola is an icon for those struggling to find themselves, and accept who they are, and Ushe is a more than fitting figure to promote such positive messages of truth and acceptance.

  When we are first introduced to Simon, for whom Lola is the alter-ego, we see a fearless drag Queen reduced to a man too shy to say hello. With a transformation, not only in dress, but seemingly in personality also, we realise just how much Simon needs Lola. Simon was trained by his father to become a professional boxer, but when he turned up to the ring in a white cocktail dress, safe to say his father was less than pleased. However, by becoming the new designer for Price & Sons, in a bid to cash in on a niche market – that of providing sturdy stilettos that can take the weight of a man – Lola regains her confidence, and her sparkle, which leaves her able to overlook, and shortly to overcome, the initial prejudices from some of the hardened men that work in the factory.

  Ushe’s rich vocals, his diva-esque movement – and that body in that dress – all make for a sexy shot of sass, sophistication and sultry spectacle.  

Kinky Boots UK Tour - Kayi Ushe as Lola. Photo by Helen Maybanks
Kayi Ushe (Lola) in Kinky Boots. Photo credit: Helen Maybanks

  Joel Harper-Jackson stars opposite Ushe as leading man Charlie, new owner of Price & Sons. Charlie appears to be caught in a cycle of going through the motions, moving to London because his girlfriend Nicola wants to, taking over the factory because his father wanted him to. Worried he will not be able to live up to his father’s expectations, Charlie initially struggles to keep the business afloat, but a chance meeting with Lola gives him an idea that will ignite a revolution in the shoe-world – Kinky Boots.

  This new idea, and the joy it inspires within Charlie, encourages him to stop simply doing what is expected, to stop striving for acceptance, and rather, to start doing what he wants to do. To stop trying to become his father, and start becoming himself. Harper-Jackson gives a wonderful and stirring performance, and in him we see a man who, like his factory, is given a new lease of life, who stops letting others tell him what he should be, and starts becoming who he is, opening the door for love, hope, happiness and acceptance, and closing the door on judgement and prejudice.

  Charlie and Lola share a strong, comical yet touching relationship, and they come to mean a lot to each other. More similar than they realise, both subject to the unfair, unattainable expectations of their unaccepting and seemingly unforgiving fathers, they bring out something in each other that they didn’t know they lacked and, by encouraging the other to change their minds, together they set about changing the world, one step, one shoe, and one heel, at a time.

Kinky Boots UK Tour Company. Photo by Helen Maybanks
Joel Harper-Jackson (Charlie) and Kayi Ushe (Lola) in Kinky Boots. Photo credit: Helen Maybanks

  In an ensemble that is altogether extraordinary, strong performances also come from Paula Lane’s Lauren, who unexpectedly develops feelings for Charlie but, unlike girlfriend Nicola, believes in what he stands for, and shares his hopes, dreams and ambitions, and in Demitri Lampra’s performance as ‘manly man’ Don who, whilst initially harbouring and embodying the prejudices that Lola is, but unjustly so, used to, he comes to realise that accepting people for who they are is not a challenge, but a necessity, and a pleasure. And of course, where would the show be without its fabulous Angels, whose talents abound in vocal ability and execution of the show’s choreography, killing it in their killer heels.

  The creative aspects of the show are every bit as dazzling as its cast. The music and lyrics of Cyndi Lauper are, not just catchy, but wholly memorable, and often very moving. The songs of the show permeate Harvey Fierstein’s clever book, which moves intermittently between an emotional gravity and a lighthearted comedy, with some hilariously comic, often sarcastic but always dramatic, one-liners from Lola, thrown in. Both book and music and lyrics work seamlessly together to create a musical that is not only uplifting, but one that bears a remarkable substance, and a profound depth.

Kinky Boots UK Tour - Paula Lane as Lauren and Joel Harper-Jackson as Charlie. Photo by Helen Maybanks
Paula Lane (Lauren) and Joel Harper-Jackson (Charlie) in Kinky Boots. Photo credit: Helen Maybanks

  Under Jerry Mitchell’s direction, alongside his strikingly slick and unique choreography, the show transports us from the monotone routine of life in the failing factory, to the vibrant, colourful world of drag, colour largely provided by way of the spectacular costumes of Gregg Barnes. In a show whose wardrobe consists of 200 pairs of shoes, Barnes not only ensures each pair are different, but ensures that this show is worthy of its title, with the kinkiest fashion you’ll find.

  With the show celebrating, indeed championing, anybody and everybody, regardless of how they dress, the musical mainstreams “a range of men”, streamlining audience attitudes towards a general and unconditional love, understanding and acceptance. Which, in a world still overflowing with harsh and bitter judgement, prejudice and inequality, is a glittering antidote.

  A feel-good musical that will raise you higher than an irresistible pair of two-and-a-half feet RED leather boots with a six-inch heel, Kinky Boots is one musical that you will hold in your heart long after you’ve seen it, inspiring you to join the Kinky Revolution.

  Ferocious, fierce, feisty and fabulous, this is a show with love, joy, and acceptance at its heart. And sex in its heel.

Kinky Boots UK Tour Company. Photo by Helen Maybanks
Kayi Ushe (Lola) and the Angels in Kinky Boots. Photo credit: Helen Maybanks

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