Kinky Boots (Tour): Love & Laughter…with Glitter. LOTS of Glitter.

Tuesday 9th April 2019 at the Grand Theatre and Opera House, Leeds.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Kinky Boots strutted into the Grand Theatre and Opera House, Leeds last night like it owned the whole damn city. It was faaabulous!

E1E0CB7D-B55C-4ACF-A9CF-88793FD728AFWith wise-cracking and heartfelt book by Harvey Fierstein alongside fierce, catchy anthems and powerhouse ballads from Cyndi Lauper it’s not like this musical was ever going to do anything other than impress as it tours the U.K. If the hoots and enthusiastic applause at curtain last night are anything to go by, this show and this cast are in for a wild ride in Leeds – and vice versa.

AA628BF1-89B3-4EC3-AAF9-7F3258C80201.jpegDirector and Chorographer Jerry Mitchell (resident director Alex Sims) knows how to sell a show on both drama and the best of musical theatre spectacle. The story, which is based on real events, allows for both. Mr Price (Andy Watkins) has a son, Charlie (Joel Harper-Jackson) and having run the family business for decades, Price expects nothing less than for his boy to take over one day. Girlfriend Nicola (Helen Ternent) throws a spanner in the works by whisking Charlie away from the factories of Northampton to the smog and excitement of London.

The Price and Son factory faces peril however, and Charlie must find a way to keep good working folks in jobs – he’s got to find a new USP for the business. Cue Lola (Kayi Ushe): drag queen extraordinaire sure to entice and entrance all who are near her…

There’s a seismic clash of cultures as the Northampton factory folk meet a diva of the London drag scene. In particular, Don (Demitri Lampra) and co, who’ve never set foot outside of their own beer belching bubble, struggle to even consider alternative ideas of who men can be.

There are lessons to be learned and barriers to be sashayed over – in gowns, naturally. We end up with a brilliant mix of real domestic drama as we await the fate of the Northampton factory workforce alongside the often hilarious but gently instructional story of acceptance.

Both Joel Harper-Jackson and Kayi Ushe are excellently cast in heading up this show. The characters have a surprising amount in common and Jackson and Ushe develop that connection with impressive credibility – no easy task considering the pace of the production and the sheer gallons of glitter poured into every third scene.

249B9D65-AD7F-4E8E-ABFD-04391E96A91A.jpegUshe is incredible as Lola, commanding the stage the way only a drag queen in her element can. But when in his ‘man clothes’, Ushe is equally wonderful depicting the sadness and vulnerability of the character. Likewise, Jackson nails both the comedy and the drama of Charlie who is essentially a lovable, clumsy and understated kind of guy who just wants to do right by everyone. Both men struggle living in the shadow of expectations they can’t live up to and it is in that connection they find a lovely (if unexpected) friendship.

Much of the show is geared towards celebrating Lola’s extreme fabulosity. Flanked by a wonderful gaggle of drag angels (Angels Connor Collins, John J. Dempsey, Damon Gould, Joshua Lovell, Chileshé Mondale, Toyan Thomas-Browne), most of the energy, colour and dazzle arrives on stage in stiletto heels and with cheeky cheeks. Each and every angel is a perfectly choreographed beauty, taking Mitchell’s choreography and delivering it with Beyoncé level sass and swagger. They’re so good in fact, that they are instantly missed when they disappear from view.

6EA61CA2-1831-4484-B86D-E1B02F879AFE.jpegComic characters are dotted all around and most of the ensemble get a moment to raise laughs. George (Adam Price) is a brilliant character. Past middle age but very much eager to accept the young and the fresh happenings all around him, Price makes our sweet George one of the most lovable characters on stage.

Quirky Lauren (Paula Lane) puts a Bridget Jones type spin on the love interest role, very much appealing to modern views of dating and relationships with the melodramatic single-girl-with-a-crush number: The History or Wrong Guys. Factory girls Trish (Niki Evans) and Pat (Lizzie Bea) offer funny ‘ordinary’ workers comically spilling their secrets while under the spell of Lola (Evans and Bea also give the production some of its best vocals within the ensemble).

B3CA44FC-EF03-4AE7-BFF3-15261A4498E3.jpegLauper’s music is an inevitable highlight and carries the narrative along not just with energy and drama, but also surprising depth and expressiveness. Ushe gets the best numbers overall and positively mesmerises with the sensually playful Land of Lola, Sex is in the Heel and What a Woman Wants before ultimately taking us all very much to heart with the powerful torch song Hold Me in Your Heart (performed amidst some gorgeously dramatic lighting design from Kenneth Posner).

Not My Father’s Son is a glowing highlight too, a ballad pairing Ushe with Watkins (who is equally as impressive and powerful in his big soul-searching solo number Soul of a Man) for a song which is as vocally beautiful as it is lyrically moving.

Scenic Design from David Rockwell captures and contrasts drab factory life with the glitz of Lola’s club, a set of illusions helped along stupendously by Gregg Barnes’ Costume designs which are, frankly, worthy of a show to themselves; drag done to nines!

27BE7BAB-31C5-4890-851F-3073EC6B5BFA.jpegAs far as touring productions go, Kinky Boots is one of the best shows you could book to see right now. It’s high energy fun mixed with some great comedy and a genuinely heartwarming central story. What’s more, even as Kinky Boots and cast are up there posing and parading around in sequins and sparkle for the masses, they are also delivering vital messages about acceptance and difference which are still very much needed.

From the jolly intro to the celebratory finale, this show is all about love, life and laughter. Catch it if you can!

Kinky Boots plays at Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House until April 20th 2019 and you can find tickets here. Following this tour stop, the show continues touring until May 4th 2019 and you can find more information here.

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