Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Uplifting musical’s a fabulous ‘reboot’

Uplifting musical’s a fabulous ‘reboot’

Kinky Boots | New Theatre Oxford | Tuesday, February 19

WHAT links the reluctant heir to a shoe-making factory in Northampton and a drag artist from Clacton?

Several things, including the “kinky boots” that make for the title of this uplifting musical.

Just as important, though, is the attitude each has to his father.

Charlie, the shoe-factory man, goes to London to get away from the family firm in Northampton. He doesn’t want to be like his father.

And Simon the drag artist — stage name Lola — certainly doesn’t want to be like his father, a boxer.

The lives of the two collide when Charlie takes over the failing shoe factory and, to stave off closure, has to go looking for a really “niche market”.

What could be more niche than fashioning boots with high heels that are stylish, sexy and strong enough to bear the weight of a man?

Kinky Boots, adapted from the 2005 British film, was turned into a Broadway musical in 2013 and came to London a couple of years later. On both sides of the Atlantic it picked up “best musical” awards and now audiences in Oxford have a chance to see this exuberant production at the New Theatre.

The heart of the musical is the bromance between Charlie and Simon/Lola.

They are chalk and cheese apart from those father issues, but each comes to appreciate the other’s strengths and vulnerabilities, as shown in one of the evening’s most touching numbers, Not My Father’s Son.

There are other strands to the story. The arrival of the drag queen and her attendants in the Northampton factory makes for the mother of all culture clashes.

Lola and company inevitably have to deal with the macho hostility on the factory floor.

Charlie himself is divided between his fiancee, Nicola, who plans to turn the factory into luxury apartments, and factory girl Lauren, who has long concealed her passion for the reluctant new boss.

What wins out in all these conflicts? True love, mutual respect and understanding, of course. Kayi Ushe in particular does an outstanding job as Lola, at once camp and commanding, sinuous and sympathetic.

He is ably supported by straight man Charlie (Joel Harper-Jackson).

Lola’s drag chorus line — the Angels — are a high-kicking pleasure alongside the more strait-laced factory girls and foremen.

The setting switches from the conveyor belts of Northampton to the catwalks of Milan, while Cyndi Lauper’s music and lyrics run from the raucous to the poignant.

Her classic, of course, is Girls Just Want to Have Fun.

Judging by the cheers and the standing ovation that Kinky Boots received, fun and uplift were exactly what the audience was getting.

Until Saturday.

Philip Gooden

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