Review: Kinky Boots. Loughborough Town Hall. ESNA

Kinky Boots

Loughborough Town Hall

5th October 2022

Undeniably the best musical ever to be set in Northampton, the story of ‘Kinky Boots’ first came to the nation’s attention back in 2005 in the non-musical film version.  Although brilliant, it always felt that this story was born to be brought alive with sequins, sparkles, and as its leading diva describes them, “a gaggle of fabulous Drags”.  So just shy of a decade later, Broadway legend Harvey Fierstein and icon of pop Cyndi Lauper got their hands on it, and turned it into the glittering musical that we know and love today.  One of the rare examples of a musical adaptation being better than its original source material, the story of the failing shoe factory that turned its fate around by manufacturing outrageous boots for drag queens has seen great success; Broadway and West End runs, a national tour, and the show has since become available for local community groups to bring their own magic to, which is exactly what Loughborough group ESNA have done.

Charlie Price (James Highton) is the latest in four generations of a family who have led the Price & Son shoe factory, but his lack of direction and aspiration sees him turning away from the family business and moving to London with wedding-obsessed-girlfriend Nicola (Laura Hardy).  On hearing of his father’s unexpected passing, Charlie takes on the running of the factory out of family duty, but realises the business is failing.  An unexpected meeting with London-based drag queen Lola (Darryl Clarke) brings an opportunity to save the business by catering to the underserved “niche market” of footwear for drag performers, but first Charlie and Lola need to change the traditional values and attitudes of the factory employees, while also understanding how their individual paths have led them to this common ground.

‘Kinky Boots’ remains high on the list of shows that are guaranteed to make you feel good.  Lauper’s music is catchy and pop-driven, upbeat and vibrant when it needs to be, while also allowing time for the slower more character-driven moments.  Fierstein clearly understands this world in detail, and his book is equal parts funny and heartfelt, with Lola getting more than her fair share of one-liners.  Characters are well-defined, and between all the glitz and glamour there are moments of humanity that bring lumps to the throat or a moistening of the eyes.

ESNA’s production shows a superb understanding of the show’s message, and delivers it brilliantly.  While understandably less technically-proficient as recent professional productions, the show excels at capturing the heart and human connection of the show, which matters far more.  Efficiently directed by Emma Healey, the show’s themes come through loud and proud, and largely make the audience forget that this is an amateur production.  Nicola Scoggins’ choreography helps to sell the seductive sass of Lola and her Angels, costumes are suitably colourful and eye-catching, and Lauper’s score sounds great in the hands of Musical Director Josh Hill and the 11-strong orchestra.

James Highton makes for a hugely likeable Charlie and leads the show well, with an enviable voice which he uses brilliantly (some big notes in “Step One” and “Soul Of A Man” threatened to blow Loughborough Town Hall’s roof clean off).  Darryl Clarke brings all the delicious slinkiness and seduction to Lola that you’d expect, but also equally excels in the more stripped-back scenes as Simon; the role needs you to care as much about both halves of Lola and Simon, and Clarke really nails this element, bringing such nuanced simplicity to “Not My Father’s Son” that it becomes a beautiful highlight of the show.  Alice Lawes is also great fun as Lauren, whose giddy crush on Charlie is endearingly played, and bringing lots of character to her rendition of “The History Of Wrong Guys”.

ESNA’s reputation for producing shows of high quality and performance value is in no danger of diminishing, and ‘Kinky Boots’ is another success for them.  Sure, some of the sets and vocals wobble at times and there’s the odd rough-edge to some performances, but the joy of the piece shines through.  Often seen as an LGBT-focused show, this production is a reminder that the musical goes far beyond gender or sexuality, and instead speaks to all of us.  The show uses Oscar Wilde’s quote, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken”, and this message of not being afraid to defy others’ expectations of us and instead living our own truths, whatever they may be, is as important as it is fabulous.  Full of heart, and “sole” (sorry), ESNA’s ‘Kinky Boots’ is a high-heeled hit.

‘Kinky Boots’ runs at Loughborough Town Hall until Saturday 8th October 2022

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