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Review: The show must go on – despite the excellent Kinky Boots’ unexpected evacuation

A FULL evacuation of the theatre isn’t something you’d hope for on the Press Night of Kinky Boots, The Musical, which has opened its UK tour in its spiritual home of Northampton.

Despite a 20-minute interruption due to a fire alarm, midway through a rompingly good version of What a Woman Wants at the start of the second act, the show, indeed, had to go on.

And it’s no easy feat, emptying 2,000 people into the cold street in the dead of night. But to cheers, the staff quickly gave the all-clear, we filed back in and the impeccable cast slipped back into character.

You can hardly call yourself a Northamptonian if you don’t know the real story of Kinky Boots. Back in the mid-1990s, Earls Barton based WJ Brookes, led by son and heir Steve Pateman, was in trouble. Quality men’s’ shoes weren’t selling, and they needed to diversify: by making fetish boots. Boots strong enough for a big chap in drag. I remember the story well, because along with other reporters at the Chronicle & Echo at the time, I wrote about it.

Fast forward 20-odd years and we’re watching the launch of the UK tour of the musical, written by Cyndi Lauper, surrounded by an audience who would be judging every extended vowel of that tricky Northants accent. The story had already been picked up and made into a BBC documentary, then a film, and the musical swept up every award from Broadway to the West End. But this was the story finally coming home. Over 18,000 tickets have already been sold for this run alone.

The set was a replica of Tricker’s in St Michael’s Street, the location for the film – but no, that’s almost too simple. The set was extraordinarily beautiful; spinning and morphing from shoe factory, pub, nursing home and boxing ring, eventually into a Milan catwalk.

Act 1 was the set-up: naive Charlie from Northampton (Joel Harper-Jackson) is about to give up the family firm, making dozens of skilled shoemakers redundant, when he meets the glamorous drag queen Lola, and the pair bond over the leather and latex to make boots that fit fellas.

Joel Harper Jackson (Charlie) in the Kinky Boots UK Tour - Image Credit Helen Maybanks

Joel Harper-Jackson (Charlie) in the Kinky Boots UK Tour – Image Credit Helen Maybanks

Thanks to the effortlessly fabulous Callum Francis as Lola, and her ‘Angels’ (six amazing dancers whose legs I’d kill for) – everyone had jaw ache from grinning so much. The cast members – and there were loads of ‘em – did an astonishing job on that not-enormous Derngate stage. The flawless choreography of Everybody Say Yeah at the end of Act 1 must have taken hours of rehearsal, with raised treadmills as conveyor belts taking the actors and dancers (some in skyscraper stilettos) through a complicated but immaculate routine.

Act 2 allows the story to deepen emotionally, as Charlie and Lola – both troubled sons who fear they’ve disappointed their fathers – take the story on. Francis, physically and vocally, is mesmerising. And when he takes off the confident mask of Lola and becomes the more fragile Simon, well, I could see tissues being reached for. This isn’t a story about drag queens – it’s about men. Men who are burdened by the expectations of other men. As burly cobbler Don (Dimitri Lampra) learns, you have to accept people for who they are.

There are some of the best lines from the film, but you’ll also note changes in the stage version (the singing, for starters). The boxing (rather than arm-wrestling) scene is brilliant – again, just immaculate timing from the achingly glamourous Angels in costumes that must have cost half the tour budget. I struggle to walk in a two-inch wedge and these guys are doing back-flips in seven-inch-heeled, thigh-high boots.

Charlie From Northampton’s love interests are narky Nicola (a more sympathetic portrayal by Helen Ternent than the hateful character in the film) and Paula Lane as Lauren – a bouncy, funny, noisy sidekick to the oblivious Charlie. The only thing I didn’t like about the whole musical was Lauren’s wig – no one has hair that weird.

By the end of the show – brought to an exciting finale with every cast member on stage grinning from ear-to-ear – the entire audience was on its feet; full standing ovation. I’m convinced its was not just for the wonderful production, or the show-must-go-on recovery, but for the effort put into the Northants-accented dialogue – ‘maaarket’,’and ‘goooing’  were spot on!

It was an incredible show, and as my ten-year-old daughter asked on the way home on a very late school night, “Do they really get paid to have soooo much fun?” Yes, darling, and they’re worth it. Catch it if you can lay your hands on tickets; Kinky Boots has come home.

By Hilary Scott

Kinky Boots UK Tour is at Royal & Derngate, Northampton until Saturday, October 6, 2018. Box office via https://www.royalandderngate.co.uk or call 01604 624811.

Cast of the Kinky Boots UK tour visits Tricker's in Northampton 007

Cast of the Kinky Boots UK tour visited Tricker’s in Northampton. Pic: John Roan Photography

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