Kinky Boots at Wales Millennium Centre

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Just be who you wanna be. Never let ‘em tell you who you ought to be.
Just be, with dignity. Celebrate yourself triumphantly.

Ladies, gentlemen, and those who have yet to make up their minds – Kinky Boots is a dynamic musical that tells the story of Charlie Price, who inherits a shoe factory from his father. This leads to Charlie forming an unlikely partnership with Lola, a Drag Queen and cabaret performer, to produce a line of high-heeled boots for men and save the business. In the process, Charlie and Lola discover that they are not so different after all.

Joel Harper-Jackson (Charlie) in Kinky Boots (Photo: Helen Maybanks)

This progressive musical, based on the 2005 film of the same name, was written by Harvey Fierstein (Funny Girl, La Cage aux Folles, Newsies), and the music and lyrics were composed by Cyndi Lauper (‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’, ‘Time After Time’, ‘True Colors’). These iconic stars, alongside a strong creative team, created a hit show that won many major Best Musical awards, including the Olivier Award for Best New Musical, and Tony awards for Best Musical and Best Original Score.

After 3 years and over 1,400 performances in London, Kinky Boots is now on tour across the UK and Ireland. Currently you can find Charlie, Lola, and their friends in Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre from July 22nd to August 3rd. You can find out more information about the tour HERE.

Paula Lane (Lauren) and Joel Harper-Jackson (Charlie) in Kinky Boots (Photo: Helen Maybanks)

Kinky Boots is a classic story about finding yourself and where you belong, and the performers did a great job at portraying the highs and lows of each character, making them seem grounded in reality and relatable. 

Charlie, played by Joel Harper-Jackson (Jesus Christ Superstar, Little Women, Rent), effortlessly demonstrates the character’s conflicts. He is torn between upholding his family’s legacy and establishing a promising career in London with his partner Nicola, played by Helen Ternent (Jersey Boys, We Will Rock You, The Three Musketeers). When he inherits the family business, he evidently doesn’t know how to connect with the staff and fails to inspire them during the turbulent times, despite growing up around the business. However, with continuous interactions with Lola, played by Kayi Ushe (Motown the Musical, Book of Mormon, Crazy for You), and a growing passion for creating shoes for a niche market, you see Charlie grow in confidence and quickly becomes a natural part of the factory. 

Charlie and Lola are two sides of the same coin, despite initially differences – such as feeling unable to live up to parental expectations – yet together they are able to inspire and support each other to bring the best out of each other. 

Kinky Boots also covers what it means to be a man – a highly disputed topic in society. The show defies gender norms and expectations to broadly redefine them. During the song ‘What a Woman Wants’, Lola demonstrates to Don, played by Demitri Lampra (The Jungle Book, The Wind in the Willows, The Selfish Giant), and his fellow male workers what their female coworkers really want from a man in a relationship. Companionship, affection, sensitivity, and compassion – “traditionally female characteristics” which Lola readily supplies. She emphasises the point that she is more desirable to women than the gruff factory men. This goes against Don’s perceived thoughts about masculinity and begins to challenge him to reconsider. 

Instead of the rough exterior and perceived masculinity that Don originally swears by, he is challenged to “accept someone for who they are.” Once he takes this lesson on board, he makes a considerable change for the better and becomes a positive example to his coworkers and the audience by making the effort to understand and support Charlie throughout a stressful time. 

After taking on board these lessons, Charlie offers his own definition of what makes a man – “being a man means being brave enough to take on the entire world”. Through the influence of Lola on his and the factory workers’ lives, it becomes evident that the definition of being a man isn’t about being physically fit and stereotypically masculine – it is having confidence and love for yourself and those around you. To be able to accept and support others so they may become better versions of themselves.

However, Kinky Boots wouldn’t be as effective or entertaining if it didn’t have the supporting set, costumes, and soundtrack. 

The staging and set is used effectively to portray many locations throughout the story, ranging from the shoe factory floor and a boxing ring, to a cabaret club and a catwalk in Milan. It easily accommodates dynamic choreography, which is largely accomplished in high heels by Lola and her Angels. The set pieces continuously reveal new surprises, with an ultimate example being the moving treadmills for the cast to strut upon during the energetic number to end Act 1.

Undoubtedly, the costumes are the real showstoppers. The designers clearly worked hard to create a masterful range of costumes that further added to the immersive storytelling – from casual clothes suitable for working in a factory, to Lola’s many glamorous outfits that demanded everyone’s attention. She certainly was given the greatest range of outfits to strut her stuff in, with a dapper suit and a timeless white formal gown, to a sensual red dress during the finale to match the iconic boots.

And the shoes cannot be ignored. There is an extensive range of shoes on display throughout the musical – which is to be expected as they play such a pivotal part in the story. The heels are outstanding. Breathtaking; dramatic; striking – I’m sure you get the point. When the first Milan sample boot was revealed, the holographic sparkles on the heel caused a gasp that rippled throughout the audience, which is a compelling testament to their dazzling effect.

Unfortunately, despite its many positive aspects, this show is not perfect. I felt like it was let down by a majority of the soundtrack, even with its Tony award for Best Original Score; many of the songs are forgettable – especially Charlie’s soliloquies that follow his character development. 

The best and most iconic songs undoubtedly belong to Lola. ‘Land of Lola’ perfectly captures the explosive contradiction in high heels that she is, and ‘Hold Me in Your Heart’ is heart wrenching as she sings of the love she has for her unaccepting father, and wishes he reciprocated. 

I also found the soundtrack to be overly cliche at times. Charlie’s song ‘Step One’ was brimming with overused phrases – for example, the chorus is as follows:

Alfie Parker, Joshua St Clair and Daniel Conway in Kinky Boots (Photo: Helen Maybanks)

“I may be facing the impossible

I may be chasing after miracles

And there may be the steepest mountain to overcome

But this is step one”

Don’t get me wrong, we all love cheesy songs. And this would be fine if it wasn’t a constant presence throughout the song. 

However, fault aside, it is the emotional and cultural impact that is the most important aspect of the show. Kinky Boots shows the heartbreaking reality of feeling unable to live up to loved one’s expectations. Whether it be from career choices, love interests, or even the clothes we wear, many people will find a relatable character in the show. And this couldn’t be more true for LGBT viewers.

Michael, who is part of the LGBT community and a Drag Queen in their spare time, said this in response to watching Kinky Boots at Wales Millennium Centre:

“There were three parts throughout the show I felt very connected to. I already knew what I was in for, as I had followed Kinky Boots before it hit the West End, so as soon as I heard the opening chords of ‘Land of Lola’, I was in my element.

However, the songs that had the biggest stand out to me were ‘Not My Father’s Son’ and ‘Hold Me in Your Heart’, and they stood out for big reasons. Being LGBT, I was able to identify with Lola a lot by being different to what I thought my Dad would want me to be, like many others. And ‘Hold Me in Your Heart’ I clicked with as it felt as if you were singing it to a relative who you wish could see you in all your glory. Even typing this, I can feel the goosebumps return. With the opening lines, the tears start to flood. 

Overall, although I knew what I let myself in for with Kinky Boots, I adored and enjoyed every single minute of it. And if anyone hasn’t seen a musical, I definitely recommend Kinky Boots.

Now, time to buy myself a pair of red boots!”

In conclusion, I had a very enjoyable evening watching Kinky Boots. While I found some of the soundtrack to be lackluster and cliche at times, the entertainment value is enhanced by the full experience with the accompanying set, choreography, and positivity. 

Photo: Helen Maybanks

This musical provides a safe space for the audience members to be themselves, and love each other for who they are, quirks and all. It is an accepting realm where Lola’s words, “We’re the same, Charlie boy, you and me”, ring true as everyone has their issues, niche interests, and peculiarities. And that should be celebrated and accepted with pride. 

I would definitely recommend taking the opportunity to see Kinky Boots as I know you’ll have an entertaining evening and you will walk away with a spring in your kinky heeled step.

Thank you to Wales Millennium Centre for providing us the opportunity to attend this fabulous performance!

If you’re interested in seeing the Kinky Boots UK & Ireland tour, check out the details HERE!

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