Kinky Boots


Kinky BootsLeft – Callum Francis and the Angels. Cover – Callum Francis and Toby Francis. Photos – Matthew Murphy

The 2013 Tony Awards were dominated by two new musical theatre productions – Kinky Boots and Matilda – both of which, as it happens, are currently performing in Melbourne. While Matilda has been playing for most of the year (and in fact closes in a few weeks time), Kinky Boots has just opened at Her Majesty’s in a blaze of publicity, due in no small part to the presence of the show’s composer, Cyndi Lauper.

Based on the 2005 British film of the same name, Kinky Boots tells the story of Charlie Price – the reluctant heir to his family’s shoe business in the once prosperous UK manufacturing town of Northampton. However Charlie is less than enamoured of a life selling men’s shoes and, without any real passion of his own, follows his go-getter girlfriend to London, to take up a job in marketing. The couple have barely arrived, when Charlie receives news that his father has died. He temporarily returns to Northampton to tidy up his father’s affairs, only to discover the firm is in much worse state than first thought. He tries to drum up some business in London, hopefully to buy himself some time while he works out how to tackle the company’s financial woes. While he is there, he comes across Lola, a super star drag queen, who mentions in passing how hard it is to find quality ladies shoes… for men.

Without a buyer for the company’s existing product, the only sensible option is to close the factory down – but when Charlie has to tell his staff that they have lost their jobs, the gravity of the situation starts to dawn on him. Reminded of his conversation in London, he brings Lola to Northampton to help him create a new line of men’s ladies boots, that he hopes will save the company. However the presence of Lola and her Angels is a disruption to the conservative workplace, particularly amongst the more macho male employees. Nevertheless if the company is to survive, they will need to find a way to change the product as well as their attitude, giving rise to the show’s motto – “you change the world when you change your mind”.

Musically, Lauper’s score is heavily Americanized, with little discernible reference to the story’s origins as a quirky independent British film. The show did win the Tony Award for Best Original Score, beating out Matilda, and to be sure there are some terrific numbers – the opening song, The Most Beautiful Thing in the World for example, along with pretty much everything by Lola and the Angels are uniformly good – but there are also some tracks that sound positively generic by comparison (Everybody Say Yeah anyone?).

The production relies heavily on the performances of the two leads, Charlie and Lola, and the results are mixed. Toby Francis as Charlie is not always convincing as the dutiful son, grappling with the legacy of his father while trying to find his own way in the world. The play opens at breakneck speed and as a consequence, important scenes establishing the relationships between Charlie and his father (Glenn Butcher) and with his girlfriend Nicola (Teagan Wouters), feel rushed and insincere. Indeed, much of his performance is presented at fever pitch, frequently trammelling moments of emotion and/or high tension. With little light and shade in his acting, he relies heavily on the music to project the emotional journey of his character, but too often succumbs to belting out his vocals as if they were rock anthems.

Callum Francis (no relation) has a résumé full of understudy roles in major London productions, including Kinky Boots, Miss Saigon, The Lion King and Ghost, although it appears this is his first major lead role in his own right. The long apprenticeship has clearly served him well and he gives a superb performance as the sassy, smart and vulnerable Lola. His timing, both comic and musical, is excellent – and his vocals in Land of Lola, Not My Father’s Son and Hold Me In Your Heart were the stand out performances of the night.

Other notable performances were given by Sophie Wright as the goofy Lauren and Daniel Williston as the hard man Don, although the entire cast is solid throughout. Notable too is Lola’s backing troupe, the Angels – the energy on stage lifting markedly whenever they appeared.

While the story is genuinely enjoyable with it’s heart-warming, what’s-not-to-love message of finding your niche, and displaying tolerance for those different to yourself, this production is rather uneven in its execution. Despite its inconsistencies, this is still an enjoyable show that will only improve as the season progresses. And the performance of Callum Francis alone makes this worth seeing.


Kinky Boots
book Harvey Fierstein | composer & lyricist Cyndi Lauper

Director Jerry Mitchell

Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre | 219 Exhibition Street, Melbourne VIC
Dates: from 12 October 2016
Bookings: www.kinkybootsthemusical.com.au

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