BWW Review: KINKY BOOTS at ARTS Theatre
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Thursday 26th October 2019.
The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of South Australia has branched out in a different direction for their latest production. The musical, Kinky Boots, with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper and a book by Harver Fierstein, is based on the 2005 film by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth, in turn drawing loosely on real events, the subject of a 1999 BBC documentary about Steve Pateman who created Divine Footwear, a line in fetish footwear for men, in order to save his family shoe manufacturing business.
Charlie Price, the fourth generation 'son' in the family firm, Price and Son, has reluctantly taken over his deceased father's Northamptonshire shoemaking business, only to find that it is in serious financial difficulties and might have to close, putting long-term staff out of work. He is far from committed to the business, having planned a lucrative career in real estate in London with his self-centred fiancée, Nicola.
While in London he, by chance, encounters a drag queen who goes by the stage name of Lola, and discovers that her high-heeled, thigh-length boots, made for women, cannot take the demands of the heavier build of drag artists and their energetic dance routines. Together, they embark on a project to create boots, especially for the drag community, thus saving the business in the process.
Director, Gordon Combes, musical director, Paul Sinkinson, associate musical director, Peter Johns, and choreographer, Sarah Williams, have assembled an enthusiastic and energetic cast for a production that is fast-paced and captivating.
Once again, I would rather that the company had settled on a neutral accent, rather than a wide range of variable and unreliable attempts at a regional English accent and, aside from that, why do Australians suddenly sing in awfully fake American accents, anyway?
Charlie Price is played by Ian Andrew, and there is a great rapport between him and Ron Abelita, who plays Lola, which gives a solid foundation to the performance. Both create thoroughly three-dimensional characters, with great emotional depth. The relationship between Charlie and Lola is crucial to the success of this musical, and Andrew and Abelita show how it is done.
In a flashback, at the beginning of the performance, Mark Oates plays Mr. Price, Charlie's father, extolling the virtues of good shoes, with Cohen McCrae playing Charlie as a young boy. Oates is a regular performer with State Opera, and numerous other companies, and recently played Jean Valjean for the G&S production of Les Miserables, so he brings a wealth of experience to the role.
Jemma McCulloch plays Lauren, a factory worker who pushes Charlie to look for a niche market, which he discovers, by pure luck, through meeting Lola. Jemma is immediately promoted to run the new line, and realises that she is infatuated with Charlie. McCulloch is as bright as a button in the role.
Charlie's upwardly mobile, and so very obnoxious fiancée, Nicola, is played by Ruby Pinkerton, bringing more comic relief to the production as Nicola's avaricious dreams are dashed.
James McLuskey-Garcia plays George, the factory manager, another highly experienced actor making a small role important, and reminding us of that old adage that there are no small roles, only small actors.
Don, the homophobic and bigoted foreman, is played by Warren Logan, bringing plenty of bluster to the role, then transitioning as he is enlightened by Lola's sensitivity and humanity, challenging his preconceived notions.
Charlie's Angels, sorry, Lola's Angels, members of her drag show troupe, add so much colour to the production, and the rest of the ensemble work equally hard to make this an exciting and enjoyable evening at the theatre.
I found that the technical side let the production down somewhat, with the drums drowning the orchestra, the orchestra drowning the chorus, and the chorus often drowning the soloists. Vocal clarity was also in need of work, too, as consonants were lost, making it difficult to understand the words. Many of the numbers, in fact, could have been a few decibels lower.
The lighting, too, had a few faults. When performers were downstage in front of a brick wall, lighting came from the sides, so that they cast shadows on one another, showing a need for more light from the front and, when fully upstage or on raised scenery, performers were poorly lit, rather spoiling the entrances on the catwalk in Milan. These problems can all be easily and quickly fixed and, hopefully, they will be.
On the other hand, the set was most impressive, and worked very smoothly, and those costumes and boots alone are worth the price of admission. All involved in designing and creating those areas of the production can take a well-deserved bow.
You have until next weekend to catch this production, but tickets are selling fast, so don't delay.