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Review: Kinky Boots The Musical In Concert (Theatre Royal Drury Lane)

Review by Daz Gale


Theatre Royal Drury Lane has been taken over by a series of special concerts this month, the second of which sees a welcome return to the West End for a personal favourite – the fabulous Kinky Boots. Based on the 2005 film and inspired by a true story, it made its Broadway debut in 2013 and opened in the West End in 2015 where it enjoyed an incredible run until January 2019. It has since embarked on a UK tour but this marks the first time London audiences have been able to see Charlie and Lola (No, not the childrens characters) back on a West End stage.



Disclaimer time. Kinky Boots is an incredibly special show for me. I was at the very first performance at the Adelphi theatre, came back multiple times and was then there to see it off on its final performance (where the stranger next to me asked if I was ok, I was sobbing so much). With a show so close to my heart, there is going to be a bit of trepidation of how this could ever live up to the shows high standards. But given the fact last weeks concert production of Chess managed to take one of my least favourite musicals and make it not only watchable but pretty spectacular gave me high hopes for this. Could it possibly live up to them? Everybody say yeah.


These productions at Drury Lane are collaborations with the London Musical Theatre Orchestra. Also featuring the London Musical Theatre Chorus, Chess set the bar pretty high with a “concert” that was much closer to a fully staged production. This concert of Kinky Boots is much more an actual concert production, with cast members ever present on seats, sometimes with script in hand, and not as much staging as last week. That’s not to say this isn’t your everyday concert though – Directed by Omar F. Okai, we had outfit changes (would you expect anything less from Lola?), complex choreography (including the iconic moves in ‘Raise You Up’) and more of Ben Cracknells stunning lighting design.



The story of Kinky Boots has a book by Harvey Fierstein which is full of heart and emotion. This isn’t lost even with the loss of staging and props which is a testament to the writing in itself. The songs by Cyndi Lauper are front and centre for this production, given the grandeur they deserve from such an accomplished songwriter. Big numbers ‘Sex Is In The Heel’ and act one closer ‘Everybody Say Yeah’ (now with audience interaction) are as joyous as ever, with the music allowing numbers like ‘What A Woman Wants’ and ‘Take What You Got’ to shine perhaps even more than they did in the original production.


The role of Charlie Price is played by Joel Harper-Jackson, who is not only having a busy year following a run in Cock, but is becoming a regular fixture at Theatre Royal Drury Lane after stepping in relatively last minute at Chess last week. A week later, people in the theatre were still discussing his remarkable rendition of ‘Pity The Child’ at that concert, but there were more incredible performances from him at Kinky Boots, with a particularly rousing rendition of ‘Soul Of A Man’ complete with his beautiful vocals. No stranger to playing the role, Joel previously played Charlie on the UK tour so he had no problem tapping into the complexities and emotion of the character taking the audience on a journey with him in a truly accomplished portrayal.



Someone else having a great year is Courtney Bowman who won acclaim following her star turn as Elle in Legally Blonde. If you hadn’t fallen in love with Courtney already, you definitely will at this production as she is simply brilliant as Lauren. A natural when it comes to comedy, her big number ‘The History Of Wrong Guys’ was potentially funnier than its ever been thanks to some truly hilarious faces and noises, not to mention Courtneys absolutely sensational vocals.


Sean Needham returns to the role he played in the West End to bring back his fantastic turn as Don, while some of the smaller roles are made even more memorable thanks to the high calibre of accomplished performers playing them, with Nikki Bentley bringing new life to Pat, Daisy Wood-Davis playing Nicola and Kayleigh McKnight continuing her quest for world domination as Trish. Ahmed Hamad has a small but mighty role as Harry, delivering a great ‘Take What You Got’ while Ashley Samuels brought the house down with his vocals as Referee Angel.



There’s one person I haven’t mentioned yet. Step forward Cedric Neal who has to fill the huge shoes of Lola/Simon. Cedric has history with Lola having come close to landing the role in both the Broadway and West End productions. He told this story on stage at a concert last year which followed with a moving rendition of ‘Hold Me In Your Heart’ (More on that soon) so this felt like a full circle moment for him, and boy did he rise to the occasion. A truly remarkable performer in his own right, I have had the pleasure of seeing Cedric in multiple productions over the years, so I don’t say this lightly… he has never been better than he is in Kinky Boots. Truly a role he was born to play, he IS Lola. The comedy, the acting, the looks – he embodied every element of the character in what truly is one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen, taking what we know and love about the character and still managing to put his own twist on it.


While Cedric delivered his upbeat numbers as Lola perfectly, it was the two ballads which really pushed him into the stratosphere. ‘Not My Father’s Son’ is always an emotional number (and tough for me personally) and he delivered it in a way that can only be described as perfect. However, the highlight of the night came from his performance of ‘Hold Me In Your Heart’ – one of the most beautiful and emotional numbers I have ever witnessed, I can honestly say it has never sounded better than it did last night. The resulting mid-show standing ovation spoke volumes about how the audience felt about it. Spontaneous moments like that are always special and that specific one will stay with me forever – a true reminder of the power of theatre and what a masterclass performance can do.



The presence of the London Musical Theatre Orchestra with musical direction from Freddie Tapner adds a new grander sound to the songs, performed exquisitely throughout. It may not have felt like the most obvious choice of show to be accompanied by the orchestra but there is beauty in the unexpected and it works. The presence of the cast on stage even when they are not performing added another surprising layer as watching their reactions first-hand, particularly during ‘Not My Fathers Son’ added to the emotion and intimacy of the show… even if the relatively grand Theatre Royal Drury Lane.


Cuts to Kinky Boots were made to make this work as they are limited with what they can do in a concert production. Some of these did seem to take away from the story a bit and I wonder if first time watchers of the show may have been able to completely follow or if anything was lost. Kinky Boots is a very visual show and while the actors created the visuals with their presence, and the boots were of course present, perhaps a little bit more could have been done in the way of costumes, even with the small detail of splitting the stage so there was a full runway for the finale ‘Raise You Up’ could have made a difference. Ultimately though, that is the only thing I could fault in this near faultless production.



I have to give credit to the producers – Carter Dixon McGill Productions, Katy Galloway Productions and Piers Cottee-Jones Entertainment for taking the chance on something different with these 3 concert productions. Taking shows with different size fanbases and putting them all in a theatre as looming as Drury Lane can’t have been an easy task. Quite ambitious and potentially risky, but boy has it paid off. By taking these shows, stripping it back and building it up again in a very different way, they have created a truly beautiful piece of theatre, and a night that you are sure not to forget. I hope these 3 concerts are the first of many for them as bringing back much loved shows for one night only (or two as they've all been so popular) is definitely an idea with legs.


Perhaps I was spoiled by how intricately detailed Chess was last week, but Kinky Boots was every bit as fantastic even if it didn’t compare in scale. A stage bursting with talent from performers, orchestra and chorus bringing to life a beautiful story with an important message that resonates today as much as ever made this concert production truly stunning. Cedric Neals performance in particular will stay with me as long as I live and one I’m glad I got to witness, knowing the journey he has been on with this role. I don’t know about shoes – for me live theatre is the most beautiful thing in the world, and this was another shining example of why.


★★★★★


Kinky Boots plays at Theatre Royal Drury Lane on Tuesday 9th August with the final of the three concert productions Treason taking place on August 22nd - 23rd. Tickets at lwtheatres.com


Photos by Mark Senior

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