Liam Rudden - Kinky Boots brings award-winning star to Playhouse

_Joel Harper-Jackson (Charlie) Paula Lane (Lauren) and Kayi Ushe (Lola)
_Joel Harper-Jackson (Charlie) Paula Lane (Lauren) and Kayi Ushe (Lola)
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STUNT casting. Hate it. Sadly these days producers seldom take the risk of not having a familiar face on stage. It now seems that every musical or play that tours has at least one ‘name’ to go above the title.

It’s usually someone you’ll recognise, a soap star long past their sell-by date (if they weren’t, the soap wouldn’t release them to do the tour) or a reality TV star (who they might be able to make look good on the box, but flounders about the stage when teamed with a professional).

And then there are the ageing heroes of stage and screen, actors who, in their heyday held audiences in their sway but who, through the ravages of time have been reduced to ‘starring’ in pot-boilers all but a few dedicated fans turn out to see.

Of course, the sad thing is, without these faces many shows just wouldn’t sell at all. Today’s commercial theatre audiences, weaned on third rate telly will happily rave about the poorest of productions - but that’s another column.

Thankfully, some titles are bigger than their stars, Les Miserables for example, or Phantom of the Opera. Miss Saigon is another. Or just about anything produced by the RSC or National Theatre.

Which is why I was pleased to see that, on the whole, the new touring production of Kinky Boots, which totters into The Playhouse for a festive season in December, has eschewed the trend.

Must admit, I’ve been dreading any of the obvious suspects being show-horned into Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper’s fun, feel-good musical.

Inspired by true events, Kinky Boots takes you from a gentlemen’s shoe factory in Northampton to the glamorous catwalks of Milan.

Charlie Price is struggling to live up to his father’s expectations and continue the family business of Price & Son.

With the factory’s future hanging in the balance, help arrives in the unlikely but spectacular form of Lola, a fabulous performer in need of some sturdy new stilettos.

For this tour, a cast of dedicated and talented musical theatre stars will be head to town, led by Callum Francis in the lead role of Lola/Simon (until 15 December) and then Kayi Ushe (from 17 December) with Joel Harper-Jackson as Charlie.

Francis is particulalry exciting casting having recently played the role in the Australian tour, for which he won the 2017 Helpmann Award for Best Male Actor in a Musical.

He was also in the Original London Production at the Adelphi Theatre.

If you’re wonder about the ‘on the whole’ caveat, here you go, Paula Lane (Kylie Platt in Coronation Street) will play Lauren.

Ah well, even with an award-winning hit like Kinky Boots it seems producers have to negate what risks they can. Perhaps she will surprise me.

In the meantime, Corrie fans, get your tickets.