Musical Review: Kinky Boots – Bord Gáis Energy Theatre

Review By Frances Winston

Kinky Boots

Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Grand Canal Dock, Dublin

7.30pm nightly until 31st August

Matinées 2.30pm Thursdays and Saturdays 

Tickets from €21

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to confess that I absolutely adore the movie that this musical is based on. And I am also a big fan of Billy Porter, who originated the role of Lola on Broadway. So I was extremely excited when I learned that Kinky Boots was finally going to hit Ireland.

This is actually based on a true story, whereby a North of England shoe factory managed to avoid closure by manufacturing shoes for drag-queens. Yep, that is literally the storyline (apparently a regular woman’s shoe can’t necessarily take the weight of a man, so they adapted the manufacturing process to compensate for this – don’t get hung up on the science though).

Like all the best stories based in fact, you really couldn’t make this up, but you can however embellish it somewhat and sprinkle some added glitter, stardust, and lip-gloss on it just for good measure. And while you’re at it, employ an 80s music icon to write the soundtrack. Yep, none other than Cyndi Lauper is responsible for the songs – all of which are are infectiously catchy. You will be singing some of them for hours after you leave this.

Perhaps it was because I was familiar with the story in advance, but all the characters appeared really well-rounded. Lola (aka Simon in day to day life), the drag-queen who inspires the Kinky Boots of the title, is larger than life, except when in his male persona, and Kayi Ushe does a brilliant job of bringing both sides of this complex personality to life. While I appreciate he is an actor playing a role, I’m pretty sure he could feature on RuPaul’s drag race if he wanted.

Joel Harper-Jackson as Charlie – the owner of the factory who thinks desperate times call for desperate measures, is great. He manages to make you laugh one minute and pull at your heart strings the next. And the chemistry between the two is brilliant. The other actors all do a fantastic job, and special shout out to Lola’s ‘Angels’, who are an absolute hoot. I’d actually go to see these guys doing a drag show – that’s how good they were.

I have to say I felt the one weak link was Paula Lane – formerly of Coronation Street fame (she played the tragic Kylie Platt). When she is acting, she gives a great performance as Lauren, the soon to be love interest of Charlie, and she is hilarious in her mannerisms. However, her vocals leave a lot to be desired, and even glossing over them as a comedic character doesn’t compensate for the fact that she just doesn’t have the chops for these songs. I thought it might be just me nitpicking, but talking to other people at the show I attended confirmed that this was popular opinion.

That aside, there is some amazing choreography. There is a scene that utilises treadmills that is absolutely amazing (and honestly dangerous if any cast member were to miss their footing). You will watch it with your mouth agape. The set is simple but effective. Touring sets can traditionally be hit and miss, but here they have magnificently utilised one central stage piece that works as the office of the factory, the backdrop for Lola’s stage, the bathrooms, and much more besides.

Kinky Boots manages to be OTT without being offensively camp. The characters never feel clichéd, and the gay characters are treated respectfully and thoughtfully. It manages to deal with homophobia and acceptance in an organic way, rather than ‘shoving it down your throat’. It is a toe-tapping romp that is a huge amount of fun.

Some dodgy vocals aside, Kinky Boots is completely feel-good, and will have you dancing along and rooting for the characters. It has a nice balance of humour and pathos (clearly they have someone employed to cut onions in the audience – that’s the only explanation for the eye moisture) and has more heart than any show I’ve seen in a long time.

And any musical that loudly and proudly shouts: “The Sex is in the Heels”! is OK by me!

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