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New Theatre, Oxford

Kinky Boots
5.0Reviewer's Rating

Kinky Boots The Musical is an excellent show both in conception and execution. The original film was very successful.  I had fears that turning it into a musical would not enhance it in any way. I was very wrong. The music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper are engaging, catchy, and above all, really do add an extra dimension to the characterizations and the situations. They carry the show, as they should in a musical! They are also, mostly, very upbeat and, therefore, add extra energy to the story telling. The scenic design by David Rockwell is flexible and attractive; and the costume design gives Gregg Barnes a field day. Josh Marquette deserves a special mention for the hair and wigs!

The book, by Harvey Fierstein, is faithful to the original movie (which is available on Netflix) but also adds witty extra wise cracks throughout and, when necessary, moments of extra poignancy to the relationships. The show is extremely well-paced, keeps your interest, keeps moving, and yet, gives you quieter moments of reflection about its themes.  The main theme is that you have to learn to accept people for who and what they are even when it goes against convention.

As the chief Drag Queen, Lola/Simon, Kayi Ushe is as astonishing and surprising throughout as Chiwetel Ejiofor was when he created the role for the film. Ushe’s singing, dancing and movement are riveting. Whenever he is on the stage, he is mesmerising. He has a beautiful voice of exceptional range that can do basso profundo moments as well as high falsetto when required.  Ushe would be the undisputed star of the evening were it not for the fact that Joel Harper-Jackson creates a Charlie Price who is touching, believable and ultimately heroic. The show, and this touring production, are balanced between these two men who are so different in some ways but find common ground in the end.  The quarrel between them, their reconciliation and their ultimate recognition of each other, is truly touching.

Harper-Jackson also has a terrific voice, one that I think is interesting as well as attractive. I just wish that he would not push it so hard at all times in X-Factor style. I am sure that he is capable of more nuance and subtlety in his singing; but I guess that this is the preferred approach these days so that is what they want him to do. He does it very well. I just suspect he is capable of more artistry.

I have nothing but praise for all the cast. The Angels, Lola’s colleagues in Drag, are stunning in every sense of the word.  Helen Ternent as Nicola, Adam Price as George, Paula Lane as Lauren and especially Demitri Lampra as Don all have stellar moments, work well within the ensemble numbers, and create believable and sympathetic characters. Lizzie Bea made a positive impression as Pat and in the ensemble musical numbers. Jerry Mitchell’s directing is spot on; and his choreography is dazzling throughout. I was bowled over especially by the closing number to Act One, Everybody Say Yeah. But you will also want to jive along to Sex is in the Heel, and What a Woman Wants. The prize fighting sequence that replaces the arm wrestling in the film is clever and memorable too. All the encounters between Lola and Charlie as well as their solo moments are complete standouts, especially Not My Father’s Son and Hold Me in Your Heart. The finale at the Milan fashion show is exceptionally good in a musical that is, throughout, exceptional. This touring production easily equals the original Broadway and West End versions for its cast, energy and sheer joy. Unless you hate musicals, if it plays near you, make sure you do not miss it.

  • Musical
  • Book by Harvey Fierstein
  • Directed and Choreographed by Jerry Mitchell
  • Music & Lyrics by Cyndi Lauper
  • Cast includes: Kayi Ushe, Joel Harper-Jackson, Paula Lane, Demitri Lampra, Helen Ternent, Adam Price
  • New Theatre, Oxford
  • In Oxford until 23rd Febraury. Touring until at least November 2019.

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

Canadian-born Mel Cooper came to the UK to study at Oxford and stayed, captivated by the culture and history of the welcoming and tolerant society of Britain. He founded the magazine Opera Now. He was a consultant to the Japanese broadcaster NHK, a broadcaster on British Satellite Broadcasting and a member of the team that started Classic FM on which he broadcast shows like Classic America and Authentic Performance. After working with the Genesis Foundation on helping to fund arts projects, he continues to write, review and lecture on music and literature.

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