In 1999, the BBC’s documentary series Trouble at the Top featured Steve Pateman and his century old, struggling shoe manufacturing business in the village of Earls Barton in Northamptonshire. Pateman’s way out of trouble (unfortunately only temporarily) was to create a line of fetish shoes, Divine Footwear. His story inspired the 2005 Geoff Deane and Tim Firth film Kinky Boots and in turn the 2012 Tony and Olivier Award-winning musical from Cyndi Lauper, Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Mitchell. Like his inspiration, Charlie Price inherits his father’s failing shoe factory, when a chance meeting with drag queen Lola, leads him down a path to survival, producing a line of high-heeled boots for men. Largely following the movie storyline, albeit with a considerable number of Americanisms removed from the Broadway version, the musical preaches a largely predictable message of tolerance and acceptance all festooned in sparkling sequins.
Essential as it is in building the narrative and developing character, the production takes a little while to hit its stride, and it takes Lola and The Angels’ arrival to breathe life into the show and so it remains throughout: there are lulls in the action which are thankfully alleviated when the sequin-clad lovelies appear. Performance wise, as much as Joel Harper-Jackson (Charlie) is vocally excellent, he’s a little hard to warm to, and his vehement outburst at Lola and her lifestyle is a bit too quickly and easily forgiven as we hurtle towards the feel-good ending. Kayi Ushe as Lola, is a star – tough and sassy but equally damaged and vulnerable, it’s a fine line to walk, but Ushe does it with class and grace and a beautifully toned singing voice. Paula Lane imbues her performance with life and humour as Lauren, however her vocals are not exactly musical theatre standard and her diction is tremendously lacking. Collectively the Angels are multi-talented and on-point throughout, as are the entire ensemble.
Cyndi Lauper’s songs for the show include moving ballads, some big ensemble anthems, a few uninspiring fillers, with many having a whiff of the 1980s about them, and all sung with an annoying American accent despite the rest of the dialogue being delivered in a strangled Northampton one. To their credit though, most nicely match the emotions of the narrative, and the rousing feel-good numbers serve the production well in getting the audience on-side and up on its feet.
For all its faults, you will be sure to walk out feeling thoroughly entertained and not a little uplifted – well worth watching.
Runs until 18 May 2019 | Image: Helen Maybanks