Kinky Boots at Leeds Grand Theatre review

A musical that centres around believing in yourself and accepting others for who they are could be perceived as a little saccharine. But Kinky Boots is no such thing. Instead, it’s a loud and proud musical that bursts with pride and confidence and leaves you with that fuzzy feel-good feeling.

The production, written by Harvey Fierstein, is set in a failing shoe factory in Northampton. When Charlie Price’s father passes away, the destiny of the factory is in his hands and he needs to find a way to save it… enter Lola, a sassy Drag Queen with a need for durable Kinky Boots.

The belting musical numbers, written by music legend Cyndi Lauper, bring power and energy to the stage (whether they’re pop tunes or heart-warming ballads). They’re not particularly hummable and I wouldn’t go home and listen to the soundtrack, but they provide the perfect opportunity for the cast to showcase their talents and to bring the house down with astounding ensemble numbers.

The ensemble is particularly effective in the show, with the Angels (Lola’s Drag Queens) showing some serious talent. However, it’s not a show about Drag Queens with all the flair and fierceness you’d expect – there are some seriously lovely moments throughout.

The show hangs on its leading men Kayi Ushe as Lola and Joel Harper-Jackson as Charlie. The leading female cast member is Paula Lane as Lauren, who was fantastic as the bolshy Kylie in Corrie but really plays on the ridiculousness of her role in this musical which I don’t think fits in with the rest of the performances. Aside from the leading trio I’m particularly impressed by Demitri Lampra who plays the bigoted Don (who soon changes his ways). Despite the character’s antagonistic qualities, I root for him to save the day and “turn good”, which, of course, he does in the end.

Joel Harper-Jackson is lovely as Charlie – torn between a life with his childhood sweetheart and taking on his father’s legacy. He plays the part with vulnerability and a child-like determination, which means he’s the perfect hero as the audience really roots for him.

Of course, the star of the show is undoubtedly Kayi Ushe as Lola. He brings unrivalled sass and sexiness to the role and I defy anyone not to find Lola utterly enticing. When he arrives at the factory to begin work as Stephen, alter-ego Lola left at home, we see an entirely new side to the character and like both just as much as the other. To balance this part with fire and vulnerability is an almost impossible task but Kayi Ushe gets this just right. I think his portrayal of Lola may have been the best musical theatre performance I have ever seen.

The set gives the audience a vibrant perspective of the factory, with seamless transitions that perfectly allow the big chorus numbers to take centre stage. Hats (or boots) off to David Rockwell for the design, which manages to be accurately dowdy but still utterly fabulous.

The show isn’t at all how I expected it to be – I leave feeling uplifted and overjoyed as well as thoroughly entertained with humour, fab singing and an overwhelming jealousy I don’t have my very own pair of Kinky Boots.

Catch the show at Leeds Grand Theatre until 20th April 2019.

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