Sunday, October 2

Kinky Boots: In Concert – Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Kinky Boots is one of the most well-loved pieces of modern theatre. The production follows Charlie Price’s struggle to take over his father’s failing shoe company and how he finds help in the most unexpected of places…a drag bar in London. The incomparably lavish Lola and her Angels take Charlie on a journey of acceptance, defiance, and most importantly, making stiletto shoes for drag queens. Your average workday.

The story of Kinky Boots is based on a true story and is split between its base in Northampton, the drag bar in London, and a fashion show in Milan. As someone who has just moved from Northampton to London, I do identify with Charlie’s struggle quite a lot, it’s certainly given me a new take on the show.

Going into this performance, it was important to be reminded that it is a concert, it is not a fully-fledged production with staging and a full costume rack. However, that doesn’t mean that the production wasn’t brimming with talent and vocal chops to rival any other West End show currently open.

Picking Cedric Neal to play Lola was an award-winning decision. Whilst the whole cast truly were amazing, he held the show together with unrivalled energy and outrageous talent. Having already loved him in his role as Goldie Wilson in Back To The Future: The Musical, I knew he was going to be good, yet he truly blew me away. He received a standing ovation for ‘Hold Me In Your Heart’ which he thoroughly deserved.

Joel Harper-Jackson has already played the role of Charlie Price on a tour of Kinky Boots before, so it was great to see him both reprise the role, but also just fully have fun and let loose with the creative freedom that a concert setting brings. He truly embodies the energy and personality of Charlie Price, and I love the extra riffs he threw into ‘Soul Of A Man’, overall, I just found the power and ‘oomph’ missing that I’ve come to know Joel for. If you had the pleasure of seeing Joel in the Chess concert recently, you’ll understand why this performance seemed a little bit of a step down in terms of energy and vocal prowess.

Photo: Mark Senior

Courtney Bowman, as Lauren was another fantastic casting choice. She was lively, vibrant, fun and hilarious. Courtney had the perfect balance of showing off her voice yet managing to stay comedic and look effortless. After already giving a name for herself in Legally Blonde recently, it’s clear she’s on an upward trajectory. Every scene she was in she practically stole it with her one-liners and over[1]the-top facial expressions.

Again, whilst I know it was a concert, after seeing Chess last week and seeing Bonnie and Clyde in January, I just found myself feeling a little deflated at the pure lack of props or costume changed. Of course, they changed into their boots and Cedric was given a white fur-trimmed jacket for ‘Hold Me In Your Heart’ but it just wasn’t enough to emulate the chaotic and lively story of Kinky Boots that we all know and love.

The best part of the show, aside from Cedric’s show-stopping solo, was the fighting scene. Though there was still no staging, the Angels acted as the ring and both fighters were given boxing cloves to add to the drama. The real star of this scene wasn’t Cedric as Lola or Sean Needham as Don, it was Ashley Samuels as the Referee Angel. Ashley’s vocal runs were phenomenal. Having fallen in love with him in Hairspray at London’s Coliseum, this just reminded me of his talent.

Whilst it was fun to see the angels in a variety of gender-bending costumes with varying levels of ‘femininity’, I do wish that there was at least one dressed up like your stereotypical drag queen to show the full spectrum.

Another ensemble member that stood out was Ahmed Hamad as Harry, his and Joel’s voices fit together and harmonised perfectly during ‘Take What You Got’ and made me wish he had a larger part.

Overall, the show was a lot of fun, but for a show titled ‘Kinky Boots’ I would have enjoyed it if there were more boots used as props, or even the Angels brining more of the drawings on that they usually produce. One main let down for me was the fact that Don didn’t wear his boots at the end, that is supposed to be a real turning point in his character and we didn’t really get that sadly. Even with the lack of Don in boots, the finale was still an infectiously joyous celebration of camp comedic theatre at its best and had everyone up on their feet clapping and dancing.

If they get 4* for a staged production, I can only imagine how amazing this cast would be in a fully-fledged show.

Reviewer: Ely King

Reviewed: 8th August 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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