Not all shows deserve a standing ovation, but when the audience leapt to their feet at the end of Kinky Boots, the applause was more than earned. The Tony-award winning musical is vibrant, bristling with verve and enthusiasm, and it’s hard not to fall head-over-heels (couldn’t help myself) for the talented cast.

After his father passes away, Charlie Price (Toby Francis) is tasked with taking over family business Price & Son, a shoe factory in Northampton, despite plans to move to London with image-conscious girlfriend, Nicola (Teagan Wouters). Finding himself near bankruptcy, Charlie partners with drag queen Lola (Callus Francis, no relation) and the pair develop an unconventional fix for the struggling business: crafting thigh-high boots for drag queens. The issues could be controversial, but manage to appeal to a diverse audience with compassion, humour, and boundless energy.

To rave about Callum’s performance is to join a loud clamour. He is electric, crafting Lola to be bigger than life, certainly bigger than the stage, a panoply of emotions captured in one person and each expressed with such tenderness.  She is bold, colourful, effervescent, yet still vulnerable, struggling with old wounds and trying to defend herself against new ones while wearing some of the most fabulous shoes you’ve seen. And yet, beneath the glitter and glamour, there is wisdom, a reminder that if we stay true to who we are, we can grow to become people we only dare to hope we can be.

Just as Lola has two sides, so do the show’s “villains”: Price & Son worker Don (Joe Kosky) and Nicola both have redemptive qualities, a tribute to the actors’ ability to slowly peel back the layers of their characters as we, like charlie, learn to see just how much can be contained in a single-person, how attitudes and desires might not stem from cruelty or selfishness, but simply ignorance.

A note of praise for Sophie Wright who plays Lauren, Charlie’s future love interest, for her impeccable comedic timing.

And of course, you can’t see Kinky Boots without being a bit awed by those wearing the boots in question. I’m always impressed by triple-threat performers who can manage to hit high notes and high kicks at the same time — it’s even more impressive when they’re in six-inch stilettos. Lola’s drag queen performers, The Angels, thrum with strength and rhythm. As riveting as the rest of the cast is, part of you mourns each number that lacks them. What more could you want than to see drag queens dance on a conveyor belt?

There’s a lot to be said for Kinky Boots, but perhaps most importantly: don’t miss it. You’ll feel inspired, you’ll wish Lola was your best friend, you’ll leave feeling a good deal lighter, like you too have been dancing the night away.

The show runs at QPAC until 22 October.

Read our review of The Bodyguard here.

 

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