Review: Kinky Boots at The Millennium Centre Cardiff

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Glamour, glitz and heels that hit the ceiling, Kinky Boots delivers exactly what the audience is hoping for. Set in Price and Son shoe factory in Northampton, the humdrum meets the extraordinary when Mr Price’s son, Charlie, goes into business with the fabulous Lola – an out and proud drag queen. Together they bring the factory back from the brink of extinction through Kinky Boots. The factory, and the worker’s jobs are saved when Price and Son’s begin to manufacture ‘two and a half feet of irresistible tubular sex’ high heeled kinky boots for the niche male market.

Kinky Boots is primarily a story about ‘local-boy-done-good’ with complex themes of acceptance and love woven throughout. We follow Charlie’s transformation as he finds out who he really is and what he really wants in life. Charlie’s journey is beautifully played out by Joel Harper-Jackson who most notably carries the big number ‘Soul Of A Man’ incredibly, just him and a bare backdrop. His performance at once personal and powerful.

At the start of Kinky Boots our main lad Charlie is engaged to the beautiful and ambitious – if not also slightly uptight and cold – Nicola played by Helen Ternent but as the story unfolds another love interest comes into play in the form of Lauren who works at Price and Son factory. Paula Lane gives us a wonderfully dorky and down to earth ‘girl-from-my-home-town’. Her solo ‘The History of Wrong Guys’ is as funny as you want it to be and has a definite ‘Suddenly Seymour’ vibe to it. Lane had the audience in uproarious laughter but also managed to weave in the more serious Lauren in a slower scene where she is the prop that ties up Charlie’s lose end with his father just before the big finale.

The star of the show is obviously Lola, played by Kayi Ushe who satisfyingly bursts onto the stage with a flash of bright lights, done up from head to toe in a red sequin dress and dances in impossibly high heels. Lola’s club where she works as a drag artist alongside an ensemble of her angels is wonderfully juxtaposed to the drab factory feel of Price and Son.

Lola and her girls

This juxtaposition is carried throughout the show as Charlie and Lola step into each other’s worlds and discover they have a lot more that unites them than doesn’t. We see this in the beautiful lyrics of ‘Not My Father’s Son’ which really showed off Ushe’s vocal flexibility and through both performers, invited us into the more intimate back story of Lola’s character. And I won’t spoil the ending but we see this joining of worlds played out amazingly in the last song and finale also.

Our first introduction to Lola’s girls is a feast of a vision. The dancing is Britney Spears video quality amazing and every one of the ensemble stands out as much as the next. The audience is spoiled for choice on where to focus attention during every one of their numbers. Some acrobatic skills are even included and the choreography bounds from one spectacular to another. Their dancing gives the whole show a feeling of high energy and constant forward motion.

The costumes are so varied and detailed. I loved the not too in your face 90’s theming of the factory workers outfits which by comparison between the scenes made the drag artist’s costumes stand out all the more. As we get further into the story the racks of boots in the factory become bright and beautiful and we get a good look at some of the detailing and design that has gone into them. The prop of the first bright red thigh high Kinky Boots to come through on the factory line shine and sparkle as the cast move them around the stage.

Kinky Boots press night – Wales Millennium Centre, 23rd July 2019 Photo by Polly Thomas

The stage set up is visually appealing right from the opening scene. Mostly based at the factory, the whole space is used well and we easily imagine the meetings happening privately in the upstairs office and can see the workers sewing stations in the main floor. There’s lots to look at with regard to set design and props in every scene which some may view as superfluous to the great performances of the actors but is a piece of live theatre that I personally so enjoy and appreciate.

And the music! Well I’ve had ‘The Sex is in the Heel’ stuck in my head for two days now, so yes, I would say there are some definite ear worms in there. Kinky Boots is a double Tony award winning show and a Laurence Oliver award winner so the quality of the music comes as no surprise. Songs are themed throughout the whole Kinky Boots show, one is a tango, one Rock and Roll, and Lola’s intro song is firmly 70’s disco. I think I might buy the soundtrack to listen to in the car ready for my next Kinky Boots factory visit!

Overall a brilliantly feel good theatre experience that will have you laughing and rooting for the characters throughout. It has stand-out visual appeal, narrative, and dance performances. Kinky Boots really spoils the audience by bringing together what feels like the top talents of the industry to put on a show full of exceptional choreography, costumes, and music, brought to life by a dynamic cast.

Kinky Boots runs from 22nd July – 3rd August 2019 at the Millennium Centre Cardiff as part of a U.K. wide tour.

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