Kinky Boots review – Cyndi Lauper's frockbuster musical a head-over-heels delight

Her Majesty’s theatre, Melbourne

The Australian production of the musical that has conquered Broadway and the West End is polished, infectious and a joy

You would have to be a total sourpuss not to leave Kinky Boots with a spring in your step and a massive grin on your face.

The Melbourne production of the hugely successful musical that has conquered Broadway and the West End was polished, infectious and joyful. It received a standing ovation on Saturday from the opening night crowd.

The Cyndi Lauper-penned show sent a strong – and none too subtle – message about inclusion and accepting people for who they are. In this era of debate about Safe Schools and gender identity, it’s very much a musical of its time.

Based on the 2005 film Kinky Boots (itself based on a true story) the musical is a mélange of a number of successful stories – the northern English, working-class struggles as depicted in Billy Elliot and the message of acceptance, inclusion and the importance of a fabulous frock as seen in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

These disparate elements knit together well. When Charlie Price (Toby Francis) reluctantly inherits a shoe factory from his father he has to come up with a plan to keep the factory afloat.

A chance meeting with drag queen Lola (Callum Francis) ends in an idea to keep the doors open – fabulous heels for women who just happen to be men. What Lola wants is “two-and-a-half feet of irresistible tubular sex” that won’t break under her body weight.

Bringing Lola and her friends to Charlie’s Northampton factory to design the fabulous shoes sets up the story for a variety of challenges: will the uber-masculine factory workers accept Lola? Will Lola accept herself? Will Charlie’s relationship with his fiancée cope with the pressures of running a factory? Can jobs be saved?

The chemistry between the two leads – Lola and Charlie – leads you to invest in their unlikely friendship and results in some great musical moments, including the emotional duet Not My Father’s Son.

Charlie is yin to Lola’s high-energy yang and, on stage, the two balance each other out perfectly.

Callum Francis and the Australian cast of musical Kinky Boots perform Land of Lola
Callum Francis and the Australian cast of musical Kinky Boots perform Land of Lola. Photograph: Matthew Murphy

But, really, it’s impossible to focus much on anyone else when Lola is on stage. As Charlie says, when she leaves a room there is a massive hole where she used to be. Francis as Lola zings with charisma. His vocal range is impressive and his tenor soulful. He seemingly inhabits the role with every ounce of energy he’s got and seeing him on stage is worth the price of admission alone.

The supporting cast are also great. The factory workers and Lola’s angels – fellow drag queens – all sing, dance, box and, most importantly, wear heels with verve and swagger.

The musical flags a bit, but only a little, in the second half. There’s a little too much exposition and angst when Charlie fears the kinky boots may not be ready in time for a Milan fashion show and a Whitney Houston-inspired torch song that Lola sings in a nursing home seems a tad overblown.

But these are minor quibbles. Kinky Boots comes to Melbourne highly polished and with an excellent cast.

The musical has a big heart and drums home the message about friendship and acceptance. Even the most prejudiced factory worker has the capacity to change his heart.

It may all be wishful thinking but, at this point in history where it’s our differences that define us, the inclusiveness of Kinky Boots is a lovely idea.

Contributor

Brigid Delaney

The GuardianTramp

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