Music Theatre

Kinky Boots review [Melbourne 2016]

A dazzling production and terrific cast gloss over inherent weaknesses in Kinky Boots as the 2013 Broadway hit makes its Australian premiere.

kinky-boots-2016-melbourne-everybody-say-yeah-australian-castBased on a little known 2005 English film, Kinky Boots follows The Producers, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Catch Me If You Can in focusing on a platonic relationship between two men. Book writer Harvey Fierstein is in his element writing for feisty drag queen Lola and her Cagelles Angels, spreading an admirable, if not overly original, message about accepting people for who they are.

In a British working class setting not unlike that in The Full Monty and Billy Elliot, upwardly mobile young university graduate Charlie Price promptly finds himself called back from his new life in London to manage affairs at his deceased father’s shoe factory. After a chance interaction with Lola reveals the niche market Charlie needs to save the factory, the pair joins forces to produce a range of kinky boots.

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Fierstein’s trademark zingers help to enliven the dialogue scenes, but the narrative struggles in act two when an uncharacteristic tantrum from Charlie derails production at the factory. This contrived conflict is magically solved soon after, and then it is full steam ahead to the upbeat ending.

With significant support from Stephen Oremus, who was responsible for music supervision, arrangements and orchestrations, composer Cyndi Lauper’s pop-infused music has successfully taken on the sound of a big Broadway musical. The music is instantly accessible, although few melody lines tend to linger in the memory. Sound design, by John Shivers, is wonderfully immersive. Less effective are Lauper’s leaden lyrics, which often include endlessly repeated phrases that do nothing for storytelling. A highlight of the score is Lola and Charlie’s paternal reflection “Not My Father’s Son,” which is a gorgeous, touching ballad.

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There really is nothing like having a director/choreographer at the helm of a musical, and there are precious few who perform these combined roles with more panache than Jerry Mitchell. Keeping energy high, Mitchell choreographs the flow of production elements as smoothly and organically as he choreographs the cast. Each member of the company plays a distinct character, and Mitchell establishes and maintains these with confidence and flair.

Given the potentially mundane setting of a shoe factory, scenic designer David Rockwell has inventively created a towering world of coloured glass panes and tactile brick and steel, in which a range of scenes are created with fluid ease. Rockwell clearly worked closely with lighting designer Kenneth Posner to embed a myriad of lights in the set, particularly for Lola’s drag club numbers and for the climactic Milan fashion parade. Posner’s lighting adds glamour and pizazz, also serving to effectively hide elements of the set in darkness to create differing locations as the story proceeds.

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Costume designer Gregg Barnes contributes further visual sparkle, offsetting the realistic daywear of the factory workers with the witty, slinky, ever-changing drag outfits. And the kinky boots themselves are decadently glamorous.

While it is always disappointing when imported artists are employed, it cannot be denied that British performer Callum Francis makes a magnificent Lola. Balancing bravado and vulnerability, Francis deftly and entertainingly creates an endearing, rounded character. An accomplished triple threat, Francis moves with sensual confidence and delivers both tender and powerhouse vocals.

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In an exciting breakout performance, Toby Francis projects a charming, dynamic stage presence as likeable lad Charlie, successfully making the role more interesting than simply a nice guy. Francis has a lovely light tenor voice, and also flips to a soaring belt with ease.

Talented young actress Sophie Wright is slightly hamstrung in the role of Lauren, being required to reproduce the Tony-nominated performance of original portrayer Annaleigh Ashford. Having demonstrated fresh, exciting flair a couple of months ago on the same stage as Kate Monster in Avenue Q, it is intriguing to think what Wright could have brought to the quirky role with her own interpretation.

Versatile actress Teagan Wouters is unfortunately not given the opportunity to display her impressive singing voice in the thankless role of Charlie’s snooty fiancée Nicola. Nathan Carter delivers an impressive character arc in the supporting role of formerly repressed factory foreman George. Imposing Canadian actor Daniel Williston guest stars as stubborn meathead Don while ensemble member Joe Kosky prepares for his big career break when he assumes the role of Don next month*.

Of the many strong players in the ensemble, Emma Powell displays unfailing comic timing as down-to-earth factory employee Trish.

The chance to see a new Broadway musical is always a welcome one. The general theatre-going public are sure to leave Kinky Boots on a giddy high.

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Kinky Boots plays at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne.

Photos: Matthew Murphy

*Andrew Lloyd Webber, if you are reading, Kosky is your leading man for the inevitable Australian production of your new smash hit musical School Of Rock.

3 replies »

  1. Have just found your reviews. You are a marvellous reviewer and should be writing in the newspapers as a critic. Thank you, I will read your reviews from now on.

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