KINKY BOOTS REVIEW.  Director: Matthew Wild. Cast: Darren Craig, Earl Gregory, Namisa Mdlalose, Nathan Ro, Ralph Lawson, Amy Campbell and a large ensemble. Musical Director: Charl-Johan Lingenfelder. Choreography: Louisa Talbot. Photographs: Jesse Kramer and Claude Barnardo. Fugard Theatre.

Kinky Boots review at the Fugard

BEVERLEY BROMMERT reviews

Liberating and multi-layered, this stage adaptation of Harvey Fierstein’s  book appeals powerfully not only to the heart but also to the mind: its entertainment value, warmed by sentiment, is enriched by the thought-provoking issues implicit in its plot.

Among these we have the need to conquer prejudice and accept others as they are; the importance of self-belief; the value of innovation versus adherence to hide-bound tradition; and – perhaps most salient of all – the life-affirming role of honesty in the quest for human love, whether romantic or filial. This substantial agenda is explored and delivered with a lightness of touch that prevents any hint of moralising; so brisk is the pace maintained by the performers under Wild’s direction that, together with the proficient dancing and vocals, it lurks discreetly under the spectacle and bling of drag queens’ outré costumes – and BOOTS.

Engaging and plausible story-line

To base a musical on shoe-manufacture seems like a dare some adventurous producer might take on in a spirit of recklessness after smoking an exotic weed, but Kinky Boots, contrary to expectation, works superbly, weaving together several strands of narrative to create an engaging and plausible story-line.

Kinky Boots review at the Fugard

It all begins with two lads who, despite significant differences between them, have one thing in common: they disappoint the aspirations of their respective fathers. Young Simon’s natural proclivity for glamour as opposed to boxing is cleverly symbolised by antithetical associations of red leather (he rejects red boxing gloves for red stiletto heels), while Charlie is untouched by the message that “the most beautiful thing is a shoe” (the opening number of the show, and arguably composer/lyricist Cyndi Lauper’s catchiest song).

They grow up, their lives diverge, then they are brought  together  at a pivotal time in Charlie’s life… and the rest, as they say, is history. Despite the compact size of the Fugard stage, the production’s needs are fully met in Paul Wills’ ingenious set-design, with the band accommodated aloft, the scintillating world of Simon/Lola centred in the middle, and at the bottom, the mundane world of an English shoe factory, complete with conveyer belts and individual worktables. The characters peopling these diverse places could hardly be more dissimilar, yet in the end, common humanity brings them all together, with heart-warming effect.

Louisa Talbot’s oversight of the incidental Kinky Boots choreography is impressive, at its best when booted dancers perform precariously on moving conveyor belts in a tour de force.

Kinky Boots review at the Fugard

Fabulous casting

Earl Gregory steals the show with aplomb as the feisty yet vulnerable Lola/Simon. Apart from the singing that brought him acclaim in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, his reading of this complex persona is in itself an exemplary display of sensitivity laced with wry humour, and his timing never falters. Playing opposite such a compelling performer is a challenge which Darren Craig, as the conservative Charlie, meets head-on, and with enviable authority; he turns a potentially stodgy character into one whose very weaknesses are endearing.

A notable contribution comes from the adorably rotund Namisa Mdlalose as Lauren, the unlikeliest of heroines yet with an integrity that enchants one and all. Strong ensemble from the rest of the cast underpins the lead performances.

Much more than a mere display of glitter

In the end, one might say it’s the costumes, and particularly the high-heeled boots recreated by Birrie le Roux, that one remembers most vividly on exiting the theatre. But on reflection, there is much more to Kinky Boots than a mere display of glitter: this show is worth every one of the several awards it’s garnered, and the South African production does it proud.

What: Kinky Boots review

Where and when: The Fugard Theatre until 27 October 2019

Book: 021 461 4554 or via the Fugard website

WS