Stage: Kinky Boots – Fugard Theatre, Cape Town (until October 27)
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
THE loud buzz surrounding innovative, young Cape Town director Matthew Wild’s non-replica production of the hit Kinky Boots musical has been deafening, some labelling his original version of the colourful show superior to the Broadway and West End franchise productions.
I cannot make comparisons as I have not seen the musical elsewhere, but I can say that the vibrancy and high standard of the Fugard Theatre production truly blew me away – and alone made my flight to Cape Town last week worth every cent.
Based on truth and also on the subsequent 2005 film of the same name, the multi-layered musical comes with fine credentials – catchy music and lyrics by ’80s pop sensation Cyndi Lauper and a good book by Harvey (Torch Song Trilogy) Fierstein. The original production received six of Broadway’s Tony Awards and three of London’s Olivier Awards.
The show tells of the friendship and subsequent business partnership of a cabaret-performing drag queen, Lola, and Charlie Price, the hen-pecked owner of his late father’s struggling shoe factory.
The men appear to have nothing in common but, as the story unfolds, the realisation dawns that both were disappointments to their respective fathers and now have to decide if they want to remain true to themselves.
Through song, dance, comedy, a bit of boxing (yes!) and moments of great poignancy, the growing relationship is chronicled.
Lola and Charlie set about trying to come up with the perfect stiletto heel to better support men who want to dress as women – a customer base that Charlie and his choice assortment of workers hope will save the factory from approaching bankruptcy.
Kinky Boots is certainly a visual and aural treat, featuring terrific costumes by Birrie le Roux and a clever set design by Paul Willis. The design makes use of various levels of the relatively small Fugard Theatre stage, where a tight, five-member band fills the upper level and remains put throughout the show, while the factory interior (complete with moving conveyor belts) and Lola’s club cabarets take up levels below.
The musical is as much about pleasing the mind as the eyes, ears and heart, however. The narrative, via various tangents, also serves food for thought with reflections on prejudice, bullying and the benefits of having an open mind.
Earl Gregory, most recently seen as the baker in KickstArt’s touring Into the Woods and the lead in Puss in Boots, and also as the title character in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, gives by far his best performance to date as the bleach-haired Lola. He is sass on stilettos and a wonder in wigs, on great vocal form, and with a sincere vulnerability lurking amid his cocky confidence.
The ‘gal’ with the killer smile works magic on stage alongside her shapely drag cabaret crew, The Angels – played with gusto and va-va-voom by leggy Phillip Schnetler (who filled the title role in the touring South African production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert), Tshepo Ncokoane, Chester Martinez and Emile Doubell.
Darren Craig, who will be remembered from the original SA touring production of High School Musical, might well have paled alongside Lola as the more conservative lead, Charlie. On the contrary, Craig is in beautiful voice and turns in a well-rounded character that one wants to root for.
The ensemble is excellent, with standouts including the cute as a button Namisa Mdlalose as the comical, belter-voiced Lauren, a factory worker who takes a shine to Charlie, in spite of his engagement to the nagging and selfish Nicola (Amy Campbell).
Nathan Ro (of the Swing City and Lone Estate bands) is also worth special mention as a scruffy troglodyte factory worker, Don; as is Malcolm Terry as factory manager George (a role he is alternating with Ralph Lawson).
Featuring splendid choreography by Louisa Talbot (who excelled with director Wild’s definitive West Side Story), sound design by Mark Malherbe, lighting design by Tim Mitchell (loved the illuminated starburst and the glowing red boot) and fine musical direction by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder, Kinky Boots is doing such brisk business that the season has been extended until October 27. Whatever you do, do not miss it!
Performances are at 8pm Tuesdays to Saturdays with 3pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets, starting in price from R180, can be booked at the theatre or via www.thefugard.com