Liam Rudden: Kayi Ushe is a magnificent peacock in Kinky Boots

Callum Francis hands over the role of Lola to Kayi Ushe.
Callum Francis hands over the role of Lola to Kayi Ushe.
0
Have your say

INSPIRED by a true story, the musical Kinky Boots at The Playhouse is an uplifting evening which, I have to admit, I wasn’t all that struck on seeing when first invited to the press night of the original West End production a couple of years back.

Another show about a drag queen I thought, surely that had all been done over the years.

The fact it was written by Harvey Fierstein, the genius behind La Cage Aux Folles and Torch Song Trilogy, with music and lyrics by 80’s pop icon Cyndi Lauper tipped the balance, however. I went and I loved it.

As suspected, all the ‘right on’ messages were front and centre yet despite this, and the mega-camp marketing that accompanies the show where ever it goes, Kinky Boots is at heart a good old-fashioned tale of the underdog coming up trumps.

The underdog in question is Northampton shoemakers Price and Son. Established in 1890 the company is facing ruin thanks to a glut of cheap imported shoes.

With liquidation looming some radical out of the [shoe] box thinking is called for from Charlie Price, the reluctant heir to the Price family business... and his plan to turn things around couldn’t be more radical.

After a chance meeting with drag queen Lola, Charlie refocuses production on making ‘kinky’ boots with heels strong enough to bear a man’s weight.

There follows a lesson in coming to terms with who you are, learning to accept others for who they are and, of course, there’s a love story or three thrown in for good measure.

Sexy, sassy and six-foot-something in enormous red heels, Kayi Ushe is a magnificent peacock of a Lola, the drag queen at the centre of the action.

Having taken over the role from Callum Francis who decamped from The Playhouse to appear in the Broadway production a week or so into the run, Ushe is a fine and fitting replacement.

I saw his second performance in the role and already he looked as though he had been playing Lola all his life.

Teamed up with Joel Harper-Jackson’s steadfast Charlie, the pair steal the show, their bromance perfectly believable.

A high energy extravagaza from the off, the cast of this production, which runs at The Playhouse until 5 January 2019, rattle through the dialogue and songs at a breakneck pace that ensures there’s never time to get distracted from the story.

But while Lauper’s songs might be catchy and familiar while they are being performed, with the possible exceptions of The Most Beautiful Thing in the World and Not My Father’s Son, most are instantly forgettable. Much of the comedy fails to land too.

That said, this Kinky Boots is a joyous, empowering production that I actually enjoyed more than the original London staging.

Its message that ‘you change the world when you change your mind’ seemed particularly fitting bearing in mind my first instinct was to give it a swerve.

So glad I didn’t.