Everybody Say Yeah!

Free-Rain Theatre Company continues its excellent track record of providing high-quality musical theatre to Canberra audiences with a jazzy, vivacious and heart-warming rendition of Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein’s Tony Award-winning show Kinky Boots.

Kinky Boots opened on Broadway in 2013 and has since played theatres around the world, to much acclaim. It tells the story of a Northampton family shoe factory in dire financial straits, begrudgingly headed up by fourth-generation Charlie Price following the death of his father. When Charlie crosses paths with drag queen Lola, they set out to revive the company, forging a friendship and discovering acceptance in the process.

Director Derek Walker has put together an endearing and fun show, that has the big ambitions of a Broadway production without getting too ahead of itself. The production has a great feeling of momentum: jokes come hard and fast, and scenes are action-packed. The show takes audience members on a journey to find and cultivate their passion.

Martin Everett’s Charlie is hapless and complex, and Rania Potaka-Osborne creates a strong Lola with finessed movement and sheen. The standout performance in Kinky Boots is from Brittanie Shipway who plays Lauren, a dorky and unlikely love interest for our protagonist. Brittanie really shines in this role. She is hilarious, expressive, and wears her heart on her sleeve throughout. Her vocal chops are enviable, making Act 1’s “The History of Wrong Guys” the showstopper.

The ensemble are honest and formidable, generally blending into the background but each enjoying their own welcome moments in the sun. The show does sag slightly in the middle, particularly the early part of Act 2; the dramatic conflict is a bit flat, but the pace shortly picks up and Free-Rain’s production delivers a gratifying and flashy finish.

The music sounds great in this production. Nicholas Griffin directs a full-bodied and well-rehearsed orchestra, adding texture and power to the cast. The songs roll along at a cracking pace, barely giving the audience time to draw breath – and all is nicely balanced by sound designer Dillan Willding.

The set, by Cate Clelland, takes much inspiration from the Broadway show. The shoe factory transforms smoothly into, among others, a boxing ring and a cabaret. Mr Price’s elevated office surveys the stage throughout the show, perhaps a subtle reminder that we should always remember our roots. Fiona Leach’s costumes, too, have high production values; they are congruent, fully developed, and eye-catching. Lola’s outfits are by far the most gregarious, and the titular kinky boots really pop under the stage lights.

Lighting design by Phillip Goodwin makes good use of a multitude of visual effects to highlight important characters, interactions and moods. I occasionally found it distracting, but some songs (such as “Take What You Got”) were beautifully and sensitively lit. Michelle Heine, a regular choreographer for the company, has again delivered a unique and polished complement of dances that show off the style and discipline of this diverse cast.

Free-Rain Theatre puts together a show the same way Charlie Price puts together a pair of stilettos: structurally sound, comfortable, and with a bit of party on the side. Step on down tonight.

Kinky Boots is playing at The Q, Queanbeyan, until Sunday the 28th of July.

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