Music Theatre

CLOC Musical Theatre: Kinky Boots review

Benefitting from CLOC Musical Theatre’s traditionally boffo level of spectacle, the heart and sole soul of Kinky Boots lights up the Melbourne stage once more.

Creating a worldwide hit, book writer Harvey Fierstein adapted a little-known movie for the stage and pop icon Cyndi Lauper penned an infectious, modern score. Closing last month after six years on Broadway, Kinky Boots won six 2013 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Like its predecessors The Full Monty and Billy Elliot, Kinky Boots takes a working-class English setting and infuses a message of love and hope amongst the daily struggles. The message of Kinky Boots extends to one of acceptance, as a set of Northampton factory workers come to embrace the artistic input of an ostentatious drag queen. Assuming control of the shoe factory after his father’s demise, Charlie Price has his own battle to accept small town life, away from the sophisticated allure of London.

Fierstein’s book is not perfect, with the key drama of act two hinging upon an entirely unconvincing meltdown from Charlie, who suddenly turns against the loyal workers and against new friend and business partner Lola. Lauper’s tremendously appealing songs suit the modern musical theatre style, and yet she finds it all too hard to shake the pop music convention of infinitely repeated lyrics.

Reservations about the show itself aside, CLOC’s production is a palpable hit, bursting with energy and heart. The production really takes flight in full company numbers, when the full range of creative elements are combined to dazzling effect. Half way through act one, “The Sex in the Heel” is a terrific example of this.

Highly experienced director Chris Bradtke creates a believable portrayal of life within the factory, achieving particular success with the show’s inclusive casting requirement for a range of ages and body types. Choreographer Steve Rostron keeps the technical level of dance relatively simple, focusing instead on adding spectacle by the filling all levels of the space with movement. Even Brad Alcock’s lighting seems to dance, further enhancing the visual effect of the big numbers.

Of the creative team, the work of musical director Dan Heskett is a key highlight. Not only do the eleven musicians, including Heskett on trumpet, expertly recreate the variety of pop styles required by Lauper’s score, but the full company vocals sound absolutely wonderful. The quality of the music is supported by the reliably pristine, immersive sound design of Marcello Lo Ricco.

Flowing out past the proscenium arch, the set design of Brenton Staples is as grand as it is functional. With the orchestra pit covered, the action plays in close proximity to the audience, creating a degree of intimacy in the large auditorium. Costume designer Victoria Horne excels herself yet again, providing costumes that balance realism and grit with flashy glamour. The kinky boots themselves are beautifully made and create quite the spectacle when seen on the full cast in the finale. Lola’s Angels benefit from the expert stylings of wig and make-up designer David Wisken.

Given that professional productions in Australia can struggle with accessing a diverse range of performers, it is understandable that non-professional companies face the same, or greater, challenge. Although the character of Lola was created to be played on stage by a man of colour, the role does not involve any particular elements related to race and so casting is not specified by the rights holders.

CLOC has discovered a fantastic new talent in Aaron Taylor, who gives a sensational performance as Lola. Singing up a storm in his big numbers, Taylor also shines in the tender ballads, with Not My Father’s Son” being a particularly resonant moment. Not only is Taylor completely comfortable in Lola’s skin, he also successfully portrays the character’s discomfort when his alter ego Simon arrives at the factory wearing male clothes. Taylor infuses Lola with the bubbling merriment of Sally Bowles; I half expected to see that she paints her fingernails green.

Well cast as Charlie, Owen Clarke creates a likable persona and sings the score with an attractive light tenor voice. At present, Clarke plays Charlie’s meltdown at the same emotional level as all his other scenes; this sequence may develop greater depth as the season progresses. Clarke successfully creates warm chemistry with all of his co-stars.

Rachel Rai brings a perky sense of fun to Lauren, a factory worker who become helplessly, and adorably, smitten by Charlie. Rai changes the performance of light charm song “The History of Wrong Guys,” delivering the song with a powerful belt to striking effect.

Geordie Worland brings an authentic masculinity to generally phobic factory worker Don, even managing to blush on cue when Don’s conservatism is challenged by Lola. The company benefits from the presence of experienced local musical theatre stalwarts, including Carolyn Bruce (Pat), Elise Stevens (Trish), Chris Rogers (George) and Richard Perdriau (Mr Price).

Tom Smithers (Young Charlie) and Sam Bourbon (Young Simon / Lola) prove to be not just precociously talented but are also very good sports in terms of spending so much time back stage as part of the their crucial but very small roles.

A cohesive character in their own right, the all-singing, all-dancing Angels are brought vividly to the stage by Daniel Baker, Jamie Bray, Dylan Henry, Cameron O’Reilly, Jonathon Shilling and Robbie Wilton.

Kinky Boots shows CLOC at their best. Relatively affordable ticket prices make this a highly recommended evening of musical theatre frivolity.

Kinky Boots plays at National Theatre, St Kilda until 1 June 2019.

Photos: Ben Fon

Categories: Music Theatre, Reviews

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1 reply »

  1. An amazingly crafted synthesis of design colour movement and talent which reflects CLOC s increasingly positive influence on the amateur performing art scene .. awesome !!

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