As the marquee of Her Majesty’s Theatre proclaims, Kinky Boots is the “winner of every major best musical award”, including the 2013 Tony Award for which it beat out Tim Minchin’s Matilda. Whether you think that’s a fair assessment of the two shows or not, nothing can be taken away from the sheer enthusiasm with which Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein’s production hits the stage. An enthusiasm that is not only matched, but doubled by the talented and whole-hearted performances of the Australian cast.

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Like The Fully Monty and Billy Elliot before it, Kinky Boots is an adaptation of a British movie focusing on blue-collar workers under pressure of losing their jobs, and a misfit that shakes up their understanding of the world, helping them to find a new way of seeing things. In this instance, it’s a faltering Northampton shoe factory, Price & Son, inherited by the ‘Son’ Charlie on the sudden death of his father and cutting short his plans for a marketing career in London. Unsure how to pull the business out of its crippling debt, a chance meeting with a drag queen and a broken stiletto heeled boot inspire a turnaround for the shoe factory that not every employee is ready or willing to support.

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Toby Francis as Charlie

Yes, it’s a formulaic plot, but it brings a heart-warming familiarity to the stage and provides an uplifting finale that leaves its audience feeling fulfilled. The stirring energy of the story is bolstered by a rocking, 80s-inspired score by Cyndi Lauper that is studded with a couple of hummable ensemble numbers and one killer ballad – ‘Not My Father’s Son’. There’s a lot of toe-tapping tunes to enjoy at the time, and the orchestra lead by maestro Luke Hunter absolutely delivers on the score, but besides the afore-mentioned numbers, and despite the pedigree of its writer, the music is pretty forgettable and the lyrics are often clichéd.

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The cast however give it every ounce of their being, bringing depth of emotion that blasts out across the auditorium. British import Callum Francis is an absolute revelation as drag queen Lola. Commanding and compassionate, his West End experience with the production ensures a confident and precisely drawn performance that is worth the price of entry alone.

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Callum Francis as Lola

Callum Francis is ably matched by Toby Francis in the role of factory inheritor Charlie Price. Charmingly unassuming, he belies his modest demeanour and humble performance with a killer singing voice, throwing everything into his vocals. Together the pair build a solid foundation that the rest of the cast match with conviction and verve.

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Sophie Wright as love-interest Lauren is sweetly kooky, while Daniel Williston as boof-headed factory worker Don perfectly balances the comedy and message behind his role.

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Sophie Wright as Lauren

Pleasingly, the technical aspects of this production completely resemble the standards of their Broadway forebears. Wigs and costumes are dazzling on Lola and her angels, while sets, lighting and sound are all on point.

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Director/Choreographer Jerry Mitchell has devised a production that knows its audience well, delivering exactly on what your core musical-theatre lover is looking for, while honouring its source material admirably. Although the direction is tight, the chorey is basic. This isn’t a big dance show.

It’s rare to see a musical put as much effort into its opening night as the producers of this production of Kinky Boots have, shutting down Exhibition Street for red carpet VIP arrivals and for buses to carry its buzzing and appreciative audience to a swanky after-party on Southbank. It’s a splendid and deserving show of confidence.

Kinky Boots is readily recommendable, easy entertainment with a bit of a message. It’s not breaking any new ground, but sometimes predictability can be exactly what you’re looking for – and it can be a whole lot of fun as well.

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Kinky Boots is now playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre. http://kinkybootsthemusical.com.au/

 

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

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