TheFourthWall

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Shantay, ‘Kinky Boots’ stays…

‘Kinky Boots’ presented by Spotlight Theatrical Company

Musical Theatre has come a long way since ‘Oklahoma!’ and ‘The Sound of Music’ with their well-to-do surreys and top-mounted fringing. And whilst there are still places for these Broadway classics, ‘Kinky Boots’ has rambunctiously burst onto the scene wearing nothing but a brassiere, booty shorts, and thigh-high boots. The fringing may be contained to a gaggle of drag queens’ nipple tassels, but it’s still both charming and uplifting.

‘Price & Sons’, a traditional British men’s shoe factory is on the brink of foreclosure. Doe-eyed Charlie Price, heir apparent to the footwear empire, doesn’t want his life to be about shoes. He has a plan; a new life, a fiance, a new home in London. But, with the sudden passing of his father, he is forced to stay and confront his unwanted family legacy, and the workers that are left behind.

A chance encounter with Lola, a larger-than-life drag queen inspires him to save the workshop by creating fabulous boots for fabulous queens. Will it be enough to save the failing business? Only 2 and a half hours of an undeniably pop-influenced score and lyrics (anyone for a half-rhyme?) by Cyndi Lauper and a book full of heart by Broadway stalwart Harvey Fierstein will tell.

With a cast of 29 performers, a live orchestra, and a plethora of larger than life characters, Spotlight Theatrical Company’s production of ‘Kinky Boots’ is no small show. From the custom stiletto lighting gobos to the active working conveyor belts, this was an expensive venture into the land of irresistible tubular sex.

At the helm of this glitzy production, director Katie Grace, for the most part, continued to bring the grandeur of Broadway to Spotlight’s Halpin Auditorium. It was the high-octane moments where Grace’s direction shone, with her cast of performers using every inch of the stage to tell their story.

From the large two-tiered brick-cladded stage to the fully-functioning factory conveyor belts, the scenic design was beautiful and encapsulated the grittiness of a Northampton factory perfectly. It was the smaller movable set pieces however, that felt a little incongruous and took us out of the magical Land of Lola. Unfortunately, Charlie and Nicola’s London bed-sit felt more unfinished than run-down. The audience was further pulled out of these moments by the constant interruption of stage crew, which was distracting and unnecessary when there was such a large cast that could have helped with the minimal set changes.

With such a technology-laden score, Musical Director Stephen Days did a commendable job with both cast and orchestra, creating many magical moments. Some obvious scrappiness, particularly from the brass, didn’t overly detract but served to highlight how deceptively tricky pop-song musicals can be. In particular, Lauper’s unrelenting syncopated pop rhythms.

The mammoth choreographic workload may have been split between Georgia Beck and Jackson Kook, but it was clear that they worked well together, creating cohesive choreography that was fresh, energetic and electrifying. The flamboyant, effervescent routines of Lola’s Angels and the subtler stylized movement of the factory workers couldn’t have been more different. Both styles were well thought out and were cleverly choreographed for the dance abilities of their prospective groups, but what truly unified them both, was the polished, drilled execution from what must have been weeks of rehearsals.

The addition of dance routines during ‘Take What You Got’ and tango dancers during ‘What A Woman Wants’ was a different take on the traditional and although they felt a little superfluous, credit must be given for attempting to create something fresh.

The unbridled energy exuded from all on stage particularly during ‘Everybody Say Yeah’ was a key highlight. You couldn’t help but leave for intermission with a huge smile on your face as for the first time, the entire company are integrated and passionate about saving their little factory. The choreography helped forge unexpected relationships between the Angels and factory workers, and the use of treadmills to aid movement was both clever and well polished.

Lighting Design by Leonnie Jones was bold and colourful, especially during the more flamboyant numbers. It was mildly unfortunate that the operation was sometimes a little out of sync with the dialogue or action on stage, but it didn’t overly detract. Sound design by Mikaela Murphy was fantastic from start to finish. Although the balance between the cast themselves was a little male-heavy, the balance between cast and orchestra was generally well handled and Murphy never missed a beat with entrances.

With a slightly stockier build and his signature curls, Clay English is not your traditional Charlie Price. Irregardless, we were with him on his emotional rollercoaster, from start to finish, urging him to follow his dreams and to successfully save his family’s factory; despite his father’s plans. Despite the difficulty of Lauper’s pop-belt score, English was a triple threat with soaring vocals, infectious movement and sincere, authentic acting.

Leading the cast as Lola (or Simon, from Clacton, if you prefer!) was Abu Kebe, who aged just 19, clearly has a bright future ahead of him. Kebe’s club performances were a true highlight of his embodiment of Lola – they were in-your-face and energetic, with the unbridled confidence of a true drag queen. However, it was the more important softer side of Lola that felt a little underdeveloped. Kebe’s youthful naïveté made Lola appear a little more whiny than worldly. There is a bright future for this young star, and with time and training he’ll be one to watch.

In a ‘Kinky’ world full of men dressing as women, ironically, it was the women that stole the show. Nicola, Charlie’s fiancé can be a bit of a monotonous role to play and watch, with her character arc seemingly unpleasable. Madi Jennings’ portrayal was simply wonderful to watch, managing to humanise the role of uptight Nicola, garnering sympathy, as opposed to contempt from the audience. Her vocals were powerful but placed, a pleasure to listen to, especially her high belt in ‘The Most Beautiful Thing in the World’.

Factory assistant Lauren is arguably most famous for originating actress Annaleigh Ashford’s abysmal Northampton accent, and if you’re doubtful, please listen to ‘The History of Wrong Guys’. Saying a community theatre actress is better than their Broadway counterpart is quite the claim, but in this case, Zoe Richards’ portrayal of Lauren was simply sublime and worthy of the professional stage. Richards’ impeccable comic timing, hilarious facial expressions, and powerhouse vocals were a winning trifecta, and it is a shame that she only received one solo song. Anyone for a cabaret: ‘The Messed Up Life of a Factory Seamstress’?

The creative team assembled a squad of six powerhouse Drag Queens to play Lola’s Angels. Essentially backup performers with attitude, with more pyrotechnics than Sydney on New Years’ Eve, these actors should be commended for their charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent every time they sashayed onto the stage. Every single Angel brought something different and every single audience member was buying it in spades.

Hating to single any particular Angel out, it was Nic Van Litsenborgh’s boxing-ring Master of Ceremonies that was the highlight of Act 2. From his brassy vocals and flawless makeup to hands-down, the best costume of the show, Van Litsenborgh embodied the spirit of RuPaul herself – hallelu!

Rounding out the rest of the cast were the factory workers of Price & Sons, a truly diverse range of actors. Leading the workforce was Stephen Morris as Factory Manager George, whose bumbling flamboyancy was endearing and vocals were delicate and classy. Rival seamstresses Pat (Angela Barry) and Trish (Della Days) were just the right amounts of everything. From their impeccably-timed one-liners to their fun working-class vocal solos, their performances oozed with the experience amongst a relatively young cast.

Unfortunately, there were several moments where it felt as though the ensemble was overshadowing the more important action on stage. This was partly due to the continual blocking of scenes extremely far upstage, not allowing enough distance between the leads and the background workers, and partly due to the actual nature of the tasks being acted at the back. In a relatively small space such as the Halpin Auditorium, sweeping and the movement of larger set pieces create auditory distractions that could be easily avoided.

When you think ‘Kinky Boots’, you think about the monumental task that is costuming. Designer ‘Red’ Nada Kulic has created some beautifully constructed and well-fitted costumes. However, the decision to put Lola’s male alter-ego Simon in glossy leather trousers with a face full of makeup was a complete contradiction to the story’s intent and robbed Simon’s factory entrance of its impact. The Angels’ final costumes were expectantly fabulous with nods to the ‘Kinky Boots’’ UK origins.

And of course, how can one review ‘Kinky Boots’ without mentioning the boots? They were fabulous, every last pair.

Overall, Spotlight Theatrical Company should be praised for its production of ‘Kinky Boots’. Although a little rough around the edges, and with it’s emotional core a little underdeveloped, the sheer enthusiasm from every single company member meant that audiences couldn’t help but enjoy this beautifully over-the-top show from start to finish.

With the entire season completely sold out (including several additional dates!) tickets for ‘Kinky Boots’ are harder to come by than for Lizzo. But you can see what else Spotlight is doing by visiting https://www.spotlighttheatre.com.au.

Photography by Vargo Studios & Spotlight’s Instagram @spotlighttheatre

This article has been edited by Shane Webb.

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