My second return visit to what has become one of my all-time favourite shows proved just how astoundingly joyful and uplifting the show really is.
This is the first time I've seen the production since its first cast change and I think I noted a few minor little changes here and there, although I could, of course, be wrong.
'Charlie Price' reluctantly takes over the his family's shoe factory and must work to find a way to save the factory and its workers. Unexpectedly encountering drag queen 'Lola' an idea is born which may just be the answer. 'Lola' and 'Charlie' join forces and face adversity and bigotry head-on, both external and internal, leading to the realisation that finding and accepting one's self is as important as accepting each other.
Matt Henry remains from the original cast and he just gets better and better; his comic timing, his physicality, his glorious voice and the powerful emotional performance he elicits is brighter than ever and he truly deserved the Olivier award for his performance. He is magnetic as 'Lola' and the dimensions he brings to the role seem forever fresh.
David Hunter has taken over as 'Charlie' and he is simply perfect for the role. His everyday charm and warmth, his physical presence and his honey-like vocals, together with his natural appeal indicate that he was born to play the role and he manages to elevate the standing of 'Charlie' when next to 'Lola' with the energy and chemistry between the two perfectly attuned. Hunter fits even more naturally into the part than his predecessor and this is equally true of Elena Sky who has taken over as 'Lauren' who bestows a more naturalistic take on the part as does Alan Mehdizadeh as 'Don'. Michael Hobbs is another holdover form the original cast and his 'George' is even more enjoyable and humorous than before.
The entire ensemble, whether new or old members of the company (and including the young actors), all work together to create a powerfully effective ensemble and this is never truer than in the portrayal of the various 'Angels' who are the back-up singers/dancers for 'Lola'; each is a clearly defined individual and their interactions, even when not the primary focus of a scene, are little gems amongst a treasure trove of glories that constitute the cast of 'Kinky Boots'.
The orchestra is equally on fire and the sound they produce is one of the pillars that holds the production up so well. The sound design of John Shivers works perfectly in tandem with the musicians and I have a greater appreciation for the music and lyrics that Cyndi Lauper which prove to be irresistible and sublimely suited to the production. Harvey Fierstein's book seems to work even better than before and this may be due to the fresh influx of performing talent that performs it.
Gregg Barnes' costumes are as radiant as ever and are set off against the set design of David Rockwell which morphs effortlessly as required and is complimented and set off by the lighting design by Kenneth Posner who lights the cast stirringly.
Jerry Mitchell's direction and choreography is clear and concise allowing his performers, both new and old, to take ownership of their characters in the best possible way. His staging is sympathetic to the requirements of the story-telling whilst also providing a conducive environment for the company to thrive in. Mitchell's contrasting use of lively action and stillness is well executed and he handles the comedy with ease. Though, at times, it may seem that the production is a little light-handed given the plot and themes, this is ultimately not the case as Mitchell delicately and deftly balances the more frivolous aspects with the more heavy material and ultimately all is perfectly appropriate to the nature of the show.
There is such economy in the story-telling and staging and the music so ultimately uplifting that is hard to see how this cannot be classed as perfect entertainment material. The fact that the message behind the plot is deftly handled without being in any way preachy makes this a production that has many levels and one that can appeal to one and all.
I cannot shout loudly enough at how outstanding 'Kinky Boots' is and I cannot recommend it highly enough; it is a show that, for many a reason, should be seen by as many people as possible. Especially in this day and age.
I have now seen the production thrice and I shall see it again. And again. And ...
So: 'Just Be!'