Theatre Review: Kinky Boots, Empire Theatre, Liverpool

Image Source: ATG

Format: Musical
Genre: Comedy
Date: March 27 2019
Location: Empire Theatre, Liverpool

A wildly-popular show that has finally hit Liverpool’s Empire Theatre, Kinky Boots tells a story that mixes old-school business mentalities with modern-culture awareness that results in a show that is timeless and highly entertaining.

Kinky Boots is primarily focused on the tale of Charlie Price (Joel Harper-Jackson), who is unexpectedly and unwillingly thrust into the role of managing his father’s shoe factory Price & Son in Northampton after his dad suddenly passes away. This upsets the apple cart of a planned marriage and business development with his partner Nicola (Helen Ternent) in London, but it’s an opportunity he essentially has to take up. Only problem is, the company is really struggling, to the point where it is only a matter of weeks, if not days, that the factory is set to close with the workforce set to be laid off.

In the meantime, we meet Lola (Kayi Ushe), a local drag queen, and a very talented and charismatic one at that! Lola leads her team of performers on a nightly basis, and he meets Charlie by accident, with him trying to save her from an attack outside a pub. Lola brings him to her club, and after a backstage confab, she divulges that she could do with having new shoes created. Charlie has discussed the possibility of creating “niche” footwear with his employee Lauren (Paula Lane), and with this idea in mind, they not only have a task to complete, but a direction to temporarily keep the business going.

Making an extravagant entrance, Lola is unimpressed by the initial design, emphasising the need to make them longer, sparkling and red to emit sexual passion. In the meantime, she raises the ire of some when it’s revealed that Lola is actually a regular, yet sexually open-minded, man named Simon, and his attempts to fit in with the tam by dressing “normally” don’t help much. It leads to Charlie offering Simon/Lola a job in the company while the project is being completed, which is agreed upon.

But there is trouble ahead on several fronts. Nicola reveals that Charlie’s father had drawn up plans to sell the company’s building and have it torn down, being replaced by a new development that would boost Charlie and Nicola’s financial fortunes, but would spell an end to the organisation and force all of the staff to lose their jobs. Meanwhile, Lauren develops romantic feelings for Charlie, and while Charlie and Lola are highly impressed by the prototype for the Kinky Boots, a series of arguments leads the two to go their separate ways, with Charlie also upsetting his staff. Oh, and Nicola is not happy with him either. It’s a multi-layered dilemma, but with the Kinky Boots still being designed ahead of a planned fashion show in Milan, everybody has to somehow find a way of making this succeed in such a manner that all involved can see their own personal circumstances benefit.

Joel Harper-Jackson does a good job as Charlie, especially with his singing, and there is entertainment to be found from the characters played by Paula Lane and Demitri Lampra (Don), amongst others. But the undisputed star of the show is Kayi Ushe, who absolutely shines here. Whether it’s the over-the-top performance at her local club in the form of Lola, the raw emotion and outstanding singing talents demonstrated when he is simply Simon, or the extravagance and comedy displayed when Kayi is a hybrid of the two, his performance is something to behold, and it was definitely the highlight of the show for me.

Elsewhere, as you would expect, the costumes (and of course the Kinky Boots themselves) are very nice on the eye, with a whole host of colours that emphasised how big and glamorous this production was. The comedy was pretty consistent across the board, as the mood only dipped during the intentionally-dramatic plot developments. The scenery was effective, nicely portraying the run-down old-fashioned British shoe factory, as well as a plethora of lights and pizzazz during the final catwalk scene in Milan. And there are a fair few songs to enjoy, from The Most Beautiful Thing In The World to Sex Is In The Heel, and from In This Corner to Raise You Up/Just Be. That being said, Not My Father’s Son by both Charlie and Lola is simply incredible, and Lola alone does an excellent job with Hold Me In Your Heart.

On the whole, Kinky Boots lives up to its lofty hype with a memorable and exciting, all-singing and all-dancing musical that will put a smile on the face of anybody watching. It is running until Saturday April 6, and I strongly suggest that you check the show out while it is playing to the Liverpool audience. Simply put, Kinky Boots is a must-see.

Overall Rating: 9/10 – Outstanding