Kinky Boots. Book by Harvey Fierstein. Music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper. Musical director Nicholas Griffin. Associate director and choreographer Michelle Heine. Directed by Derek Walker. Free-Rain Theatre Company. Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. 15+. Until July 28. theq.net.au.
Kinky Boots is a refreshing hoot of a musical with a gently serious underlay. Based upon the 2005 film, it tells a story founded in real events concerning an English shoe factory that reinvented itself by making high-heeled, man-sized shoes for drag queens.
The film has something of the flavour of the British Ealing comedies of the 1940s and '50s and the musical preserves quite a bit of its humour, perceptions and best lines. The makers thankfully saw no need to move the setting to the US.
Charlie Price (Martin Everett) inherits a shoe factory after his father (Peter Dark) dies. But times are tough and he is being pulled toward a very different life in London by his ambitious fiancé Nicola (a spirited performance from Hannah Lance). A chance encounter with spectacular drag queen Lola (Rania Potaka-Osborne) makes him realise that there might be a market in strong high-heeled glamour boots in men's sizes.
How the shoe factory workers take on this challenge (well, it is that or the sack) is an absorbing part of the story. Little glimpses of their lives and attitudes are handled superbly by the ensemble. Meanwhile among them man-of-few-words Don (Tim Stiles) finds accepting Lola very difficult, while the bouncy, practical Lauren (Brittanie Shipway) finds herself falling for Charlie.
Stiles does much with the inarticulate Don. Shipway's Lauren takes full joyful advantage of the songs and the opening out of the character afforded by the stage show. Everett's quietly perceptive performance shows Charlie is somewhat of a square, struggling with the family tradition, wanting to escape the provinces but drawn back by a sense of duty.
There has to be a powerful Lola at the centre and director Derek Walker has found that in Potaka-Osborne. It's a performance full of pizzazz and glamour that also takes full account of the deeper dimensions of the character's courage and lifelong struggle for acceptance. And he can put across a musical number like Hold Me In Your Heart with great style.
Young performer Joshua Galang (alternating with Donnie Hart) opens the show with a bright and poignant moment that shows how far back Lola's obsession with iconic red shoes goes.
Michelle Heine's choreography ranges effortlessly from the necessary showbiz styles to the less articulate and more humorous dances of the factory staff.
The orchestra under Nicholas Griffin solidly underpins the show.
Cate Clelland's intriguingly flexible set deals very well with both the factory and the Italian catwalk where the show climaxes. Set changes are done with aplomb by cast and crew. There are dark places that need a bit more attention from Phillip Goodwin's lighting but the atmosphere is mostly right and the glamour arrives when it needs to.
Fiona Leach's costumes rightly reach their peak with the show's magnificent chorus of drag queens but there's much neatly observed detail in what the factory workers are wearing. And the boots they make are rightly spectacular.
Free-Rain's production of Kinky Boots is spot-on and will definitely reward a trip across the border.