The prop is a tool for reviewing and discussing sydney's arts scene. the priority is to respond to the work, rather than evaluate it.  

Kinky Boots - Capitol Theatre, Michael Cassel Group

Photograph: J Green. 

Photograph: J Green. 

It’s a story born to be a musical: When Charlie’s father passes away, he must leave his new life with his fiancé in London, and go back to small, industrial Northampton to take over at the family’s boot-making factory ‘Price and Son’. The company is in trouble, and after a sequence of events leading to his meeting drag-queen superstar Lola, Charlie sees the opportunity to manufacture heeled boots for men in drag. It’s a story of a conservative town’s journey to acceptance, it’s a story of familial expectation, and - the most musical motif we know - it’s an ‘all for one and one for all’ story of achievement, when the most unlikely group of people come together to save the day. It’s such a perfect combination of events for the stage that even if the popular film's release was as recent as 2005, I’m surprised it hadn’t been adapted sooner! 

Kinky Boots is a musical definitely marketed for mainstream and mass appeal. It's one for the crowds, so it's a fantastic thing that the story brings compassion and love to the forefront. It attempts to normalise and humanise a particular minority of people- drag queens- in a wider context. It’s a great show for that reason alone. Despite the fact that it goes for the gags, that it makes every possible drag and gay joke that you could think of, it’s true to itself just like its message.

If I’m reflecting on the writing alone, I didn’t love “Kinky Boots”. I should say, Harvey Fernstein’s script is good and manages to ground the, otherwise glittery, scenes nicely. There are a number of great, raw and high-stakes scenes of confrontation and of course a great deal of comic one-liners bound for big applauses, too.

My issue is primarily in the music. I’d debate that Cyndi Lauper’s claim to the show is its greatest shortcoming (and being a HUGE fan of Lauper’s music outside of Kinky Boots, I cannot stress how much I hate to be writing this). Maybe the music just knows its audience: so it’s fun and it’s uplifting, and I don’t doubt it’ll have people dancing in the aisles on a friday night performance (like I was at a Cyndi Lauper concert in 2011!). To my taste, it’s poppy without being catchy. I couldn’t sing back a single song to you moments after walking out: one huge wash. Or if a certain song does manage to catch on, it’s probably because it’s so repetitive ("Yeah yeah yeah...."). A stylistic and genre-inspired choice, I'm sure, but not likely to sustain much interest. This is particularly a problem when the book is also designed in such a way that the songs are there as reactions, but are never a device to further the plot: we get the point after the first verse. 
What’s more, the lyrics are not only repetitive (and very much so), but fluffy and expositional. When a character is sad and the piano starts, you can probably guess what’s about to come out of their mouth (an example: "you're always telling me what I need to be..."). This all said, the “hearts bleeding” numbers ask so much vocally that you can’t help but get goosebumps. I’m talking about Charlie’s “Soul of a Man” and then Lola’s “Hold Me In Your Heart”. Both manage to hit all the right chords musically.

Whatever you or I might think of the show on paper, this production is nothing short of astounding. Firstly, this lot can dance! Exuding sex and sassiness, the drag numbers in particular are infectious. With their dancing abilities alone, the ensemble bring a radiancy and euphoria to pretty much every scene they’re featured in. The vocal journey for most of the leads is a massive ask, and they take it on with ease. Toby Francis in the lead role of Charlie is perfectly cast, and perfectly talented. But it’s Callum Francis as Lola who steals the show on numerous occasions. His presence is nothing short of breath-taking: a brilliant mover with a voice made of silk, he alone is worth the ticket. Sophie Wright brings a tonne to the table in her take of ‘Lauren’. Her comic-timing is ingenious, and her solo song “A History of Wrong Guys” an absolute riot. She is definitely a cast-member to be treasured for everything that she brings to this show. 

Quite ridiculously unresolved, the ending rings a little naff ***. Really though, anyone with a heart will be smiling as the show comes to a close (and I say this because it’s uplifting! Not because it’s ending!). Kinky Boots is a great night out. It’s true to its roots as a beloved film, with a message of acceptance that is to be nurtured. What's more, the performers are all so phenomenal in their roles that standing-ovations are just a given for this show. They've done a fantastic job. Tell all your friends! A sure-fire hit has just opened in Sydney.
 

 






***SPOILER: What happens to the factory in the end? Is Charlie stuck working in his father’s business now? Despite always wanting to get out? Has he changed his mind, found his "passion", just because of his success in the drag-market? Is the ex-fiance really THAT okay with all that's happened to her that she can join in the party in the end? And who on earth paid for all of those people's flights to Milan?   ...Maybe I left my imagination at home today.   

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