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Review: Kinky Boots (Royal and Derngate, Northampton)

The hit musical adaptation of the classic film heads out on the road

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Kinky Boots tour cast
© Helen Maybanks

There are some shows which simply defy the critics and become a firm favourite when admiring audiences get behind them. Famously, Les Misérables was roundly condemned by reviewers when it first hit the stage, only to go on to become one of the world's best-loved and longest-running musicals.

Kinky Boots book writer, Broadway veteran Harvey Fierstein, admits in the programme that the alchemy behind a hit show is something of a mystery. I must confess, I too am a little bemused by it, at least as far as Kinky Boots is concerned. Don't get me wrong: there's absolutely nothing wrong with this show. It's got a perfectly good story borrowed closely from the earlier film, it's got a score by Cyndi Lauper that contains numerous recognisable echoes of her pop hits, if not the most sophisticated lyrics, and it's chock-full of energy and enthusiasm from a large, exuberant cast.

David Rockwell's set design is imaginatively used by director Jerry Mitchell, incorporating conveyor belts, machinery and all the trimmings of a working shoe factory, while Gregg Barnes' shimmering, sassy costumes really come into their own when the drag queens get going.

And there's something rather poignant about bringing this true(ish) story home to the town where it actually happened for the start of a nationwide tour. Some might say brave as well, given that the Northampton accent is notoriously hard to pin down and the script is less than complimentary about this East Midlands backwater. As a native, I'm allowed to say that. I'm not sure Fierstein has earned the same privilege.

The message is heartwarming: underneath our defensive exteriors, we all have the same insecurities and foibles, so be nice to one another. And the staging certainly encourages clap-along, foot-stomping engagement with the eager audiences, who consistently reward the show with standing ovations.

Callum Francis especially, as the drag queen Lola whose very particular footwear requirements offer a new lease of life to a failing shoe manufacturer, gets a rousing reception. He has an impressive singing voice and looks fabulous, although there's something of a spark missing between him and the factory boss Charlie Price, played by a rather over-eager Joel Harper-Jackson.

Elsewhere, Lola's backing group, the Angels, deliver their numbers with pizzazz and panache, and the eponymous boots provide everyone with a stunning catwalk finale of glitter and glamour. It's always good to hear a rocking live band, too, even if the overpowering sound mix leaves you struggling to make out large chunks of the words.

But in the end, what does it matter what the critics think? There's so much here to win over the crowd that the standing ovations will keep on coming as the show makes its year-long trip around the country. These boots were definitely made for walking…

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