30th Sep2015

Kinky Boots (Theatre)

by timbaros

Prod_12It’s a huge hit on Broadway and it’s now finally opened in London. ‘Kinky Boots’ is in the house!

If the name rings a bell, it’s because ‘Kinky Boots’ was a 2005 film about a struggling shoe factory about to go out of business until they change their product line and start making boots that are sexy, and, literally, not worn by the everyday woman. The musical version of ‘Kinky Boots’ follows the same story, but it’s got a book by Harvey Fierstein (Torch Song Trilogy and La Cage Aux Folles – books he also wrote), music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper (‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’), and choreography by Jerry Mitchell (The Full Monty and Hairspray). That’s a lot of power and muscle behind a show, and it works, to a degree. (The show won six Tony Awards).

Killian Donnelly (the breakout star of The Commitments and co-star of Memphis) easily and comfortably plays Charlie Price, whose late father leaves him his shoe factory in Northhampton. It’s losing money, and Price might be forced to close it down, something that would make his London-bound fiancee Nicola (Amy Ross) happy. By chance, he comes to the aid of a drag queen who is being beaten up in a park. The Drag queen, Lola, played very ably and loudly by Matt Henry, is grateful to Price for saving him. But their meeting turns into a business relationship where Lola plants the idea into Price’s head to have his factory make Kinky Boots – boots for him and his fellow drag queens – boots that are big, flashy and preferably red! And eventually Lola gives up her life (and leaves her fellow drag queens) in London to go up north to help in the factory to lead in the design of some Kinky Boots. But he’s not too accepted in a town and factory where no drag queen has walked in heels before. Even though he’s dressed as a man, some of the other workers make fun of him, especially Don (Jamie Braughan), who challenges Lola to a boxing match. Of course, conflict and arguments take place between Price and Lola, and Lola decides that she’s had enough of the northerners and heads back down to London. Meanwhile, Price is being wooed by one his employees – Lauren (Amy Lennox – wonderful) But it’s bad timing as Price is about to show his latest models of shoes at a Milan fashion show – he’s got no Lola, no models, and tons of shoes that need to be worn.

And you can only guess what will happen next. To say this show is predictable is an understatement. While there are no surprises in the plot, it’s the music that raises the show up a notch or two. Lauper has injected her personality into songs that only she can write – when all the actors sing ‘Everybody Say Yeah’ – it’s a song that will stick in your head for the rest of the night – in a good way. And of course each actor has their own song moment – Donnelly sings his heart out in ‘Soul of a Man’ while Lola is given ‘Hold Me In Your Heart’ – a song that highlights his very deep baritone voice in a soulful way (it sounds a bit like the song in Dreamgirls – ‘And I am Telling you I’m not Going.’ If there’s one person who steals the show it’s Lennox – she’s hysterical in the role of Price’s colleague who pines for him while he’s focused on keeping the business afloat. Production values are fine – the set morphs from factory to the fashion show. For me it’s the drag queens that make this show good – their sparkling clothing and sass and attitude and sequins are just right – for without them ‘Kinky Boots’ wouldn’t be so Kinky at all.

21st Sep2015

Casa Valentina (Theatre)

by timbaros

Casa Valentina by Robert Workman 2015 1There’s a house in the Catskill mountains in upstate New York where several men go to dress up in women’s clothing. It’s also a new play by Harvey Fierstein called ‘Casa Valentina’ now playing at the Southwark Playhouse.

Fierstein, whose other show in the West End is Kinky Boots, gives us a bit of a twist on Kinky Boots’ theme where there are men who dress as drag queens purely for entertainment purposes. In Casa Valentina, we get straight men who dress up as women because they have that need. These men are from all different walks of life – yet they purely enjoy dressing up in women’s clothing, and there’s nothing sexual about it.

Jonathon (Ben Deery) shows up at Casa Valentina. He’s a bit nervous because it’s his first time at the house as he’s used to dressing up on his own when his wife is away. He meets the owners of the house, Rita (Tamsin Carroll), whose married to George (Edward Wolstenholme). George’s other name is Valentina, and it was his idea to create a safe space for men to dress up. Rita has accepted his fetish and is the glue that holds the house together. Along with looking after the men, she also provide a shoulder to cry on and and ear to listen to the men’s issues. Jonathon encounters a bevy of different types of men there: one is The Judge, whose woman’s name is Amy (Robert Morgan), another one is Bessie/Albert (Matthew Rixon) who has all he best lines and could possibly be modelled on Fierstein himself, and then there’s Isadore/Charlotte (with two woman’s names) (Gareth Snook) who leads the way for Transvestites and even campaigns at the highest level for people like them. But it’s the newbie Jonathon who has a hard time fitting – his stab at dressing girly falls flat, so it’s up to the ‘girls’ to dress him up and make him look pretty. And while these men may be camp, they are not gay, but they also want to remain anonymous. It’s political activist Isadore who riles them up with her suggestion that they all go public – strength in numbers she says. It’s get even more complicated when one of the men kiss Jonathon; this shakes up their entire unit like never before and it becomes a catalyst for their future relationship with each other.

‘Casa Valetina’ is staged in the round and it works successfully as each character floats from one side to the other very gracefully, and it gives the audience a chance to stare at their costumes and makeup. While they all look like men who dress up as woman, there are feminine qualities that they all possess; holding a purse, puckering up, wearing lipstick, and more importantly wearing a dress correctly. And all the actors are quite fine in their roles. Ashely Robinson is perfect as Gloria/Michael – he’s got beautiful eyes that are accentuated when he’s wearing makeup; handsome and gorgeous at the same time. Carroll is fine as the wife who’s given up a ‘normal’ life to take care of the girls – she doesn’t seem to realize that perhaps she has ‘lost’ her husband somewhere in his dressing up. Rixon is fabulous as Albert/Bessie – very quick with his funny lines. And Deery is perfect as the newbie – timid and shy and not too sure that he belongs there. Fierstein has not lost it in his several decades of playwriting – ‘Casa Valentina’ is funny and dramatic and hilarious and everything you could ask for in a play about transvestites.

Casa Valentina is now playing until October 10, 2015. To buy tickets, go here: