Theatre Review: Kinky Boots at The Fugard Theatre

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Kinky Boots at The Fugard Theatre (Photo: Jesse Kramer)
Kinky Boots at The Fugard Theatre (Photo: Jesse Kramer)

The musical Kinky Boots, like all Broadway musicals, is truly a spectacle to behold. It has incredible musical numbers, flashy costumes, intricate choreography and phenomenal set design and lighting. All this is a testament to Matthew Wild’s great directing. What made Kinky Boots a spiritual experience for me is the fact that underneath all the smokes and mirrors, it is built on the foundation of being an authentic story about accepting yourself.

Kinky Boots tells the story of Charlie Price (played with deep compassion by Darren Craig), a young man who has reluctantly inherited his father’s shoe factory, Price & Son. The factory is on the verge of bankruptcy. Trying to live up to his father’s legacy and save his family business, Charlie finds inspiration in the form of Lola (play with passionate momentum by Earl Gregory), a fabulous entertainer in need of some sturdy stilettos. Lola performs in drag for a living and Charlie notices that Lola’s shoes are not as good as they could be. Together, the two work to turn the factory’s fortunes around, and in the process find that they have more in common than they ever dreamed possible.

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Kinky Boots at The Fugard Theatre (Photo: Jesse Kramer)
Kinky Boots at The Fugard Theatre (Photo: Jesse Kramer)

The script (written by Broadway legend Harvey Fierstein) and the music and lyrics (by Grammy award-winning Cyndi Lauper) require only the best from its cast. There is simply no room for any inauthentic performances.

Being yourself is a motif that Fierstein and Lauper have worked into the fabric of the show. And Wild and his team do an incredible job of showing this to the audience. For each character, this means something different. For Lola, it means embracing all aspects of who she is; for Charlie, it involves accepting that his path might involve taking on the initially unwanted responsibility of ensuring the well-being of others; and for Lauren, it is about going after what she really wants. Lauren is played by Namisa Mdlalose, who deserves a special mention as she steals every single scene she is in.

Kinky Boots at The Fugard Theatre (Photo: Claude Barnardo)
Kinky Boots at The Fugard Theatre (Photo: Claude Barnardo)

In the original Broadway production (2013), the role of Lola was played by the force of nature that is Billy Porter. In many ways, there are similarities between Porter’s career and Lola’s story. Porter has been in the entertainment industry since the early 1990s. However, his career has suffered because he is a self-described “flamboyant queen.” In the show, Lola and Charlie first meet because of an incidence of violence as a result of Lola’s flamboyance.

For Porter, this meant that casting directors could never imagine him as anything beyond this and so he never got any of the straight roles or the gay/queer roles because, as he puts it, he was “labelled as too flamboyant.” Lola is also subjected to the same kind of policing of who she is. I have heard Porter say in numerous interviews that over the years, he has refused to compromise who he is for the sake of making it big on the big screen or on television.

Kinky Boots at The Fugard Theatre (Photo: Jesse Kramer)
Kinky Boots at The Fugard Theatre (Photo: Jesse Kramer)

We tend to forget that there once was a time when the kind of drag that is represented in Kinky Boots was not popular. Shows like Rupaul’s Drag Race have done a lot of work to bring drag into the mainstream and a show like Pose is years ahead of our time when it comes to teaching people about transgenderism. Billy Porter existed as he still is today before this moment we are in. He reminds us that “it is easy to be who you are when who you are is what’s popular.” And Kinky Boots does a splendid job of teaching this lesson to its audience.

Kinky Boots will be performed at The Fugard Theatre until 27 October 2019 on Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8pm with a matinee performance on Saturdays and on Sundays at 3pm. Tickets starting from R180 can be booked directly through The Fugard Theatre box office on 021-461-4554 or through The Fugard Theatre’s website at www.thefugard.com

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