THE stage has always been the place to break down boundaries first, to give everyone a voice, to celebrate individuality but common humanity too.
All the more so in this age of diversity and letting people be whom they are, when the York premiere of West End hit Kinky Boots can apply a particularly glittery boot up the backside to prejudice and intolerance in the wake of such drag staging posts as Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert and La Cage Aux Folles.
Nik Briggs’s company York Stage will be pulling on the thigh-high boots and staggering stilettos from tomorrow (16/9/2022) to present the York premiere of a joyous show with 16 songs by Cyndi Lauper and a book by Tony-winning Harvey Fierstein to add yet more sparkle to the newly refurbished Grand Opera House.
“What perfect timing,” says Nik of a storyline where young Charlie Price must step into his late father’s outmoded shoes to run Price & Son, a fraying Northampton shoe factory on its last legs.
“Charlie has to take over this ageing institution that his father has looked after so dutifully at a time when all the other shoemakers are closing. In the light of what’s happened in the past week [with the passing of HM The Queen], it’s even more poignant, especially when they talk of Charlie.
“But it’s also an uplifting show, so it’ll be a lovely show for people to see at this time when they need a lift.”
Charlie’s girlfriend wants him to climb the ladder in London, but he seems tied by the laces to his hometown, his workforce, especially when help swishes into view in the unlikely but fabulous form of Lola, a drag queen supreme in need of sturdy yet slinky stilettos for not only Lola but all the Angels that strut their stuff and fluff with him.
“The whole show is based around the story of two men who grew up in the 1980s and Nineties, trying to deal in different ways with the legacy of their father. Simon/Lola’s father, who was a boxer, didn’t want him to explore his love of female clothes, whereas Charlie was always expected to take over the family business, and they come together at that point.”
Based on the true story of Steve Bateman saving a small shoe factory in Earls Barton, Northamptonshire, by deciding to focus on fetish footwear, Kinky Boots has had two lives, both as a 2005 British comedy-drama film, directed by Julian Jarrold and written by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth, and as the Lauper-Fierstein musical directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell of Hairspray and Legally Blonde The Musical fame.
“When I saw the musical, I hadn’t seen the film, and it jarred on me as a British tale that came across as very American musical, whereas the film was very British in character,” says Nik. “I felt the musical needed to be stripped back to look at what it is to be a man in this toxic environment. I think we’ve now struck a better balance that allows the story to come across better.”
Turning his thoughts to American pop singer Cyndi Lauper’s songs, Nik says: “There are a lot of ballads, which is not what we think of from Cyndi’s pop career, but she can write a really good ballad: Soul Of A Man; Hold Me In Your Heart; Not My Father’s Son, Charlie and Lola’s ballad, which really encapsulates the story.
“The music has that electropop vibe of the late-1990s, but still feels modern and that comes through in the performances of the drag queens, so it’s very entertaining.”
York Stage’s cast of 25 will be led by Damien Poole, playing Charlie Price after his outstanding turn as Buddy in York Stage’s November 2021 production of Elf The Musical, and company debutant Samuel D Lewis as Lola.
“Samuel happens to be Emily Ramsden’s best friend [Emily played Audrey II in York Stage’s Little Shop Of Horrors at York Theatre Royal this summer], and he’s got a voice like the male equivalent of Emily. He can belt almost as high as she can!” says Nik.
“Samuel is from South Yorkshire and he’s been travelling the world on cruise shows as a vocalist/performer, but he had a gap in his diary that’s enabled him to do our show.”
Another York Stage debutant, Amy Barrett, will play the show’s leading lady, Lauren, the assembly line worker. “Originally from the North East, she’s recently graduated from Oxford University, and she’s now teaching drama at schools in York,” says Nik. “She turned up at the auditions having heard of our company and she just filled the room with fun.”
When it comes to the kinky boots for Kinky Boots, “the postman keeps looking quizzically at me as he brings these boxes to the door, and I’ve been getting some very interesting sites popping up on the screen on my laptop,” says Nik.
York Stage presents Kinky Boots at Grand Opera House, York, from tomorrow (16/9/2022) to September 24. Performances: 7.30pm, Friday, Saturday, Tuesday to Saturday; 2pm, 6.30pm, Sunday; 2.30pm, Saturday matinees. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.
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