The Liverpool Empire has become a whole lot more Fabulous. Kinky Boots arrived in Liverpool on the 25th March and remained until Saturday 6th April.  The hit musical is amidst its first ever UK tour after having spent over 3 years, with more than 1400 performances, in the West End.

Inspired by true events, Kinky Boots retells the 2005 comedy-drama film of the same name, with new music by Cyndi Lauper. It follows the story of Charlie Price (Joel Harper-Jackson), the struggling new owner of ‘Price & Son’, a family-run shoe manufacturer in Northampton. As the factory faces being closed down, help arrives in the unexpected form of Lola, a Drag Queen and performer in London. Charlie, with the support of employee Lauren (Paula Lane, best known as Kylie Platt in Coronation Street), decides to change course and create boots for drag artists; sturdy enough for the weight of a man, but glamorous enough to suit Lola and her fellow ‘Angels.’ Loosely based on the true story of Steve Pateman, whose company W.J Brooks in Earls Barton, set the trend for fetish footwear, or ‘Kinky Boots,’ the story is one of acceptance and change. Hilarious yet simultaneously poignant, Kinky Boots is a lot of fun and this cast does an amazing job in bringing the story to life.

The Drag Queen era we find ourselves in, with Ru Paul dominating pop culture, means interest in the story of Kinky Boots has been somewhat revitalised. However, whilst appearing glamorous and comedic on the surface, the musical deals with some heavy issues. With a stellar performance by Kayi Ushe, Lola overcomes many challenges as she learns to accept herself; the heartfelt ‘Not My Father’s Son’ is particularly touching as we learn the obstacles that Lola has faced especially in being disowned by her father. The discrimination that the Angels are faced with, underpins the musical and whilst Lola’s overt confidence and theatricality thrills the audience, it is the honesty of the play that accounts for its success. Through changing perceptions and encouraging diversity, Lola’s story steals the show; the love triangle of Charlie, Nicola and Lauren is arguable less strong. Set up with a traditional musical theatre plot, Kinky Boots only really hits its stride with the introduction of Lola, and becomes so much more than the cliché love story it looks set to be.

 

The UK tour began at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton, the home of the story. As a born-and-raised Northamptonian, the mere representation of Northampton in a Broadway-originated musical was undoubtedly exciting; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a portrayal of my own town, and it is impressive that the setting remains true to the story. Yet, this setting was not fully explored and ‘Northampton’ could have easily been replaced by any other industrial town. Kinky Boots was by no means blatantly derogatory towards Northampton, yet the consistent references to escaping the suburbs for the grand life of London was jarring. Northampton was presented as lacklustre and inferior; the antithesis of Lola’s exuberant lifestyle, as embodied by Don. Whilst locals might agree with some of these stereotypes, and bashing our town is hardly uncommon (it comes with the territory of being a true native), it’s hard to watch as outsiders do the same. Michael Davies succinctly puts in his own review of the Royal & Derngate performance that ‘as a native, I’m allowed to say that. I’m not sure Fierstein has earned the same privilege.’ The put-downs of our town don’t seem quite right coming from an American script which knows nothing of the real Northampton. It is true that Northampton is synonymous with shoes; my brother is a cobbler, and the town is dominated by shoe factories even to this day. However, this is not all there is to Northampton, as Kinky Boots might have you believe.

The accents were also far from perfect. The Northampton accent is notoriously hard to pin-down, and some of the actors did a decent job. Yet, somehow, the actors all seemed to have differing accents, none of which fully seemed true to the accent I know and love. The accents ranged from London-esque, to full-blown Yorkshire-like impressions. This, while a small feature which definitely improved as the play went on, did seem indicative of the presentation of the town as a whole. The American view of leaving a small pokey interchangeable town to make it in a big city, seemed to disregard the true personality of the town. This, along with the love triangle, puts Kinky Boots at the risk of being haunted by clichés, but it thankfully rises above this.

The actual performance and entertainment side of Kinky Boots was, without a doubt, phenomenal. The choreography of ‘Everybody Say Yeah’ at the conclusion of the first act was a particularl stand-out moment and must have taken hours to perfect with tricky dance moves being completed on conveyor belts. The finale was equally impressive with almost all the cast donning their platform heels to perform, especially impressive upon learning that this was the first-time wearing heels for much of the cast. You’d be hard-pressed to leave Kinky Boots without a smile plastered across your face; its upbeat, life-affirming nature makes the show perfect for all ‘ladies, gentlemen and those who have yet to make up their minds’ alike.

Overall, Kinky Boots is a lot of fun, and sure to be an instant favourite. Despite some minor roadblocks, the show was simply amazing and the cast did an impressive job. I urge anyone to go watch and judge for themselves; once Kinky Boots finishes its current run later on this year, it’s unknown when it will grace the UK again so don’t miss out. Get your tickets here.