Acclaimed musical which takes audiences on a journey from the factory floor of Northampton to the glamorous catwalks of Milan. Songs come courtesy of pop icon Cyndi Lauper.

Charlie Price is struggling to live up to his father’s expectations and continue the family business of Price & Son. With the shoe factory’s future hanging in the balance, help arrives in the unlikely but spectacular form of Lola – a fabulous performer in need of some sturdy new stilettos.

Kinky Boots tells the inspiring story of a Northampton shoe manufacturer’s decision to make ladies’ footwear for men. The show’s music was written by ’80s pop legend Cyndi Lauper. 
What’s On recently caught up with the Girls Just Wanna Have Fun star to find out more... 

 

“There’s no book on ‘how to be famous for dummies,’” says Cyndi Lauper, who, at 65, retains her New York drawl. “You just do what you can. All of a sudden, you get to the top of the mountain and everybody around is like, ‘You can’t do that! Don’t do this! You’ll be ruined!’”

Above all, the 1980s’ punkiest pop queen, who was catapulted to stardom with Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and Time After Time, was warned off musical theatre. “I was always being beckoned, ‘Come this way’, and I was like, ‘I can’t, because if I do my career is over’. I would lose my credibility in pop. It was really a big divide. After a while, you get to a point where you say, ‘Well, I think I’ve been ruined enough; it doesn’t matter now - I can do whatever the hell I want.’”

And what she did was Kinky Boots, the mega-hit musical that conquered Broadway and the West End, and which is now going on a UK tour. The songs were written by Lauper, and in New York they won her a Tony Award for best original composition. In 2016, the show won three Olivier Awards. It also bagged the London Evening Standard BBC Radio Two Audience Award for best musical and three WhatsOnStage Awards.
 
Cyndi had never written for theatre before, and became the first woman ever to win the Tony in the ‘best score’ category on her own. “What I was really taken with was that the community accepted me. To have these people, who are literally in my own backyard on Broadway, take me in was what kinda got me.”

Aptly enough, acceptance is the take-home message of Kinky Boots. “Accepting yourself, you’ll accept others. It’s a very important show at this time in the world.”
 
Kinky Boots is loosely inspired by the story of an old family firm of Northampton shoe manufacturers that manages to stay afloat after discovering a niche in the market: ladies’ footwear worn by men who like to dress up.
 
The BBC told the story of the firm’s rebirth in the series Trouble At The Top. In 2005, the story became a charming independent British movie starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as Lola, a fictional cross-dressing diva demanding sturdy stilettos. But the ultimate destiny for such a fabulous story was always going to be the stage. Kinky Boots The Musical, which explored the unlikely friendship between Lola and straight-laced factory owner Charlie, opened in Chicago in 2012, moved to Broadway the following year, and made its way to the West End in 2015. It’s also gone all around the world to countries including Canada, Australia, Germany and Japan.
 
But now it’s come home: the tour recently opened at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton, the quiet town in Middle England where the story began.
 
Lauper would have loved to have been there at the opening as she believes “that particular part of it is special.” But she counsels against thinking of Kinky Boots as a specifically English show. “It’s a story about a really great friendship and two very, very opposite people. And there’s a great redemption in the end. I’m a sucker for redemption.”

Perhaps there’s been some redemption for Lauper, too. She was a huge star in the 1980s, but - as happened to all her contemporaries bar Madonna - she gradually slipped from the top of the chart. She was thinking of creating a musical about her upbringing in Queens when she got a call from her friend, Harvey Fierstein. Fierstein is theatre royalty, the writer of hit play Torch Song Trilogy, about a gay drag performer, and the cross-dressing star of the musical Hairspray.
 
“He said, ‘I’m doing a show called Kinky Boots. Would you like to write the music for me?’ I thought, wow. He told me I had to watch the film. I loved it. I thought, oh I get it. He wants me to write 12 good pop songs with a good hook. I figured I could do that. Then I realised, oh, you have to move the story along.”

She set about composing anywhere and everywhere. “I brought my phone along with me and I recorded melodies on it. I belonged to a gym that had a track on an upstairs roof, so I would walk and sing and write. When I woke up in the middle of the night, I picked up my iPhone.”
 
The result of Cyndi’s endeavours is a string of catchy numbers, from wig-out dance anthems to heart-stopping ballads, among them The Most Beautiful Thing In The World, The Sex Is In The Heel and Not My Father’s Son. Ideas came from surprising sources. She thought of the shoe factory workers as Monty Python’s knights of the round table. The History Of Wrong Guys, a comic scene-stealer about a woman who has bad luck with men, was inspired by a line from Kung Fu Panda. “I gave everybody a different style because everybody has a different jam when they’re in the shower singing.”

She didn’t really think about writing for specifically English characters. “When England started doing pop music, it sounded like American music. Their translation of Duane Eddy and the Everly Brothers and Chuck Berry was the Mersey Beat. It was different but still based on rhythm & blues. It wasn’t like Harvey asked me to write some foreign stuff. You’re not going to ask me to write an opera. I don’t study opera.”

What she did study as a child was her mother’s record collection, which was full of soundtracks from musicals such as My Fair Lady - another study of the English written by Americans. “I did what kids do: 
I would play each character. I sang Stanley Holloway’s part, Rex Harrison’s part and Julie Andrews’ part.”

At the Tony Awards in 2013, Kinky Boots was up against Matilda The Musical, with words by Tim Minchin, which was considered the favourite to win. “I was constantly asking Harvey if Kinky Boots was a hit, and he was saying, ‘I don’t know yet, Cyn. We have to win best musical’. So when it won best musical, I said, ‘Is it a hit now?’”
 
See it and judge for yourself. You’ll never think about shoes in the same way again.  

Kinky Boots shows at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre from 16 to 27 October; Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent from 28 January to 9 February 2019, and Birmingham Hippodrome from 11 to 23 March 2019.


on Tue, 25 Sep 2018

Since its Broadway debut in 2013, hit musical Kinky Boots has toured around the world. Spending the last four years residing in the West End, the show is now out on its first ever UK and Ireland tour.
This week, it’s made its way to Wolverhampton, to bring a touch of sparkle, plenty of fabulousness and a whole lot of sex to the Midlands.
Based on the 2005 film of the same name, Kinky Boots tells the tale of Charlie Price, the newly appointed manager of his late father’s shoe factory in Northampton. Charlie has got some tough decisions to make whilst attempting to save the struggling factory. He’s also trying to rescue his relationship with his fiancée, Nicola, and their new life in London.  
After a by-chance meeting with a drag queen named Lola, Charlie identifies a potentially lucrative niche market - creating women’s boots to cater for men who dress as women. With the help of Lola and her team of drag queens, can Charlie and the factory staff overcome the challenges of ignorance and conflict to make this dream a reality?
Directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, with music and lyrics by ’80s pop star Cyndi Lauper, this story of diversity and acceptance comes alive with the help of fierce anthems (Land Of Lola and Sex Is In The Heel) and more touching songs of reflection and realisation (Not My Father’s Son and Soul Of A Man).
Joel Harper-Jackson provides likability and charm in the role of Charlie - he has audiences rooting for him from the get-go - while Paula Lane proves she can bring in the laughs as lovable and sometimes wacky factory worker Lauren. But it’s Kayi Ushe who really stands tall (both in and out of those fabulous heels) as the sassy Lola, with the vocals and moves to match.  
A special mention must go to the rest of the show’s polished ensemble, and in particular Lola’s ‘Angels’, whose slick choreography and attitude add extra twinkle to an already sparkling production.
If you’re looking for a feelgood show full of laughter, catchy tunes and a warm-hearted story of accepting people for who they truly are, Kinky Boots is the one for you. Grab yourself a ticket before they’re gone!


4 Stars on Thu, 18 Oct 2018

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