BWW REVIEW: KINKY BOOTS Struts Into Sydney Bringing Heels, Heart And An Inspiring Story Of Acceptance
Wednesday 19th April 2017, 7pm, Capitol Theatre, Sydney
Harvey Fierstein (book) and Cindi Lauper's (music and lyrics) multi award winning, feel good hit Kinky Boots delighted Sydney's opening night audience with its heart-warming story of courage, acceptance and fabulous footwear. The Australian production, under the direction of Jerry Mitchell (Director and Choreographer) who also directed the Broadway and West End productions, is filled with infectious energy, enthusiasm, hope and an optimism that shines through, proving that Australian productions hold their own against their International counterparts.
The blockbuster musical, based on the motion picture, which was in turn based on the true story of Northamptonshire shoe factory WJ Brookes, shares the story of two worlds colliding as Charlie Price deals with inheriting Price & Son shoe factory during the demise of Northampton's shoe manufacturing industry. Whilst Charlie grew up surrounded by shoes, he had not pressing desire to take over from his father which leads him to follow his snobby status driven fiancée Nicola to London in pursuit of a career in real estate. As he is forced to contemplate the near bankrupt factory's future following his father's death, he finds himself recovering from trying to come to the aid of the statuesque Lola, a drag queen who's father would rather his son become a boxer than dance in heels. When factory worker Lauren challenges Charlie to think outside of the traditional staid brogues, he is reminded of Lola's dilemma of trying to find footwear suitable for the weight of a male frame and the rigours of dance which brings the sequins, style and sensual sexuality of Lola and her Angels face to face with the working class East Midlands community and all the challenges that clash of culture entails.
Lauper's music gives the work a rock feel for the most part, with an undertone of traditional musical theatre and her lyrics are clever and for the most part clearly enunciated amongst the rock stylings. She has incorporated a balance of bold upbeat and more poignant ballads that are beautifully presented. Stephen Oremus' orchestrations are wonderfully presented under Luke Hunter's musical direction of his 11 piece orchestra that sits in the traditional pit.
David Rockwell's detailed set takes the audience inside Price & Son's red brick and lead light windowed factory with Kenneth Posner's lighting and additions to the set being enough to imply other locations. He has incorporated many moving parts that reinforce the image of a working factory whilst allowing the focus to be drawn on more intimate moments and expanded for big numbers including a creative use of the production line conveyer belt. An office overlooking the factory floor and utilitarian staircases allows vertical variety and the differentiation between management and the factory floor. The pace of the performance is retained with seamless transitions that evolve as the puzzle pieces come together. Rockwell allows his set to evolve with the story, commencing with a staid colour palette and gradually introducing colour as Lola and her brightly coloured Kinky Boots start to be prepared for the bright, shiny Milan fashion show.
Even more impressive is Gregg Barnes' costume design which helps reinforce the difference between the Northampton factory workers, comfortable in casual jeans and polyester, Lola and her Angels colourful, sexy fashion and the young professionals Charlie and his social climbing fiancé who dresses in business formal dresses and expensive traditional stilettos. Barnes keeps the factory workers in essentially the same clothes throughout whilst Lola and her 'Angels' dress to themes to suit the moment, from sexy nightclub performance wear to versions of the classic British trench coat finished off with more fabulous heels, a 'relaxed' playful workwear and the high glam, high drag finale numbers. He has ensured that the audience remembers that this is a British story, from the inclusion of a Paddington Bear toy hanging off an Angel's to the themed finale outfits that play on iconic images. Barne's fabulous drag costumes are paired with Josh Marquette's hair design and Randy Houston Mercer's makeup which draws on the Drag stereotype whilst ensuring the 'ladies' retain a glamour and class.
This production is filled with wonderful performances throughout the company. Of the minor roles, the young boys filling the roles of Young Charlie and Young Lola are wonderful. The role of Young Lola is shared between William Oakley, Kamohelo Pepe Scott, Elijah Slavinskis and Joel Supnet. For opening night the 8 year old Slavinskis beautifully conveyed the innocent joy that the young boy finds in a pair of heels and the reluctance to give up his red shoes underpins the audience's understanding of the challenges the grown-up Lola has dealt with to become who she is. Similarly the role of Young Charlie is shared between Oliver Alkhair, Henry Green, Xion Jarvis and Kai Lloyd-Jones. The 9 year old Alkhair filled the role of Young Charlie on opening night, conveying with a quietness that Young Charlie knew his father wanted him to be the next 'son' to enter Price & Son and expressing a less strained relationship with his father.
Matthew Predny, as Charlie's old friend and fellow shoe salesman expresses Harry's pragmatism in the declining industry being squeezed out by cheap, substandard imports. He presents a somewhat desensitised approach to the industry whilst retaining the youthful blokey rapport with his childhood friend. As Charlie's fiancé Nicola, Tegan Wouters conveys a distain for hers and Charlie's humble origins, being seduced by the sophistication of London to a degree that its questionable as to whether she really loves Charlie, but rather the idea of marrying her childhood sweetheart and 'living the dream'. She presents Nicola's callous single mindedness and lack of compassion with a detachment which highlights the growing distance between Nicola and Charlie.
As the plucky but unlucky in love Lauren, Sophie Wright delivers some fabulous comic moments with a perfect timing, accent and physicality, particularly in her hilarious solo The History Of Wrong Guys. Wright captures Lauren's plucky confidence that is countered by an awkwardness and she allows the character to grow and mature as Charlie's loyal supporter. As factory manager George, Nathan Carter infuses wonderful little reactions that give a glimpse beneath the surface of the seemingly staid and formal loyal employee. As the burly and homophobic factory worker Don, Joe Kosky conveys the stereotype of the prejudiced male, threatened by the thought of men that prefer to dress as women. He ensures that the audience believes that Don is a loutish brute that doesn't understand that Lola and her Angels really pose no threat to him but in reality could actually teach Don a thing or two about women.
Lola's Angels are presented with brilliant vigor and gusto by Blake Appelqvist, James Delisco Beeks, Euan Doidge, Ryan Gonzalez, Mark Stefanoff, and Michael Woodcock. The Angels are presented as an ensemble but each displays a delightful individuality, infusing different personalities into each. They are dynamic and engaging and incredibly athletic in their pheonomenal physicality, presented in towering heels.
Toby Francis' portrayal of Charlie Price is beautiful in his expression of the young man's growth through the story. He presents an initially innocent and sheltered young man who gradually learns to have compassion for the people around him, from the people that work in the factory to Lola. Toby's vocals are bold and clear whilst expressing Charlie's passion and exposing his fears, particularly in the textured Soul Of A Man. He presents a great contrast to Lola whilst also highlighting how the two are similar, principally in their duet Not My Father's Son.
As Lola, Callum Francis is a standout. He embodies the stereotypical diva drag queen whilst also exposing that Lola still has her own demons, particularly her father's lack of acceptance of who she is. Callum's vocals are rich with a warmth and depth that captures the light and shade of Lauper's music. He has a flexibility that ensures that he can take Lola from big, bold, high camp numbers like Land of Lola and the infectious Sex Is In The Heel to the heartbreakingly poignant Not My Father's Son and Hold Me In Your Heart. His physicality and his comic timing is priceless in its pinpoint accuracy of portraying a confident queen whilst he ensures that Lola is presented as a loving, caring person that does not want to hurt or belittle anyone.
In addition to being a brilliant expression of two disparate worlds coming together, Kinky Boots also contains an important message that is applicable to everyone. The message of acceptance of self and of others is vitally important in a world that still has prejudice, fear and inequality and Kinky Boots presents this with a beautiful story of reinvention, understanding, courage and resilience and some fabulous footwear. This show that is filled with heart and humour is a must see and even if you've seen Kinky Boots overseas, the Australian cast should not be missed.
Capitol Theatre, Sydney
13 Campbell Street, Haymarket
Book through Ticketmaster 1300 558 878 | ticketmaster.com.au or kinkybootsthemusical.com.au
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