The King and I

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Bartlett Sher’s production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic which wowed both New York and London audiences opened at Manchester’s Opera House this week; its first stop on an extensive UK and Ireland tour which sees the multi-award winning production hitting the road until May 2020.

Starring Jose Llana direct from Broadway as The King of Siam and Annalene Beechey from the West End production as Anna, The King and I remains without doubt one of the all-time greats from the golden age of musicals.

Featuring a company of over 50 as well as a full-scale orchestra no expense has been spared in ensuring this lavish production impresses from the moment the overture begins.

Following the death of her beloved husband, English widow Anna takes on the job as teacher to the King of Siam’s children. She soon discovers however that the job isn’t entirely what she expected as she ends up teaching not only the King’s many children but several of his wives too. Further complications arise when the house she was promised fails to materialise and conflict begins with the stubborn King: a dictator whose command all must obediently obey.

Although set in the 1860’s the story is still surprisingly relevant as we see Anna set about changing the King’s old fashioned and out dated views on women. While there is an element of civilised Westerner going to the East to teach what is decent and right the context here feels more like a meeting of minds proving both can learn from and benefit each other.

Michael Yeargan’s exquisite set design combined with Catherine Zuber’s sumptuous costumes mark this production out from the start as a lavish and beautifully enthralling revival.

Christopher Gattelli’s additional choreography breathes new life into Jerome Robbins original 1950’s choreography adding a fresh vibrancy which the strong ensemble deliver with impressive precision.

Annalene Beechey is everything you’d wish for as Anna: wonderfully engaging, gracious and warm, with a strong sense of self while gifted with the most sublime voice she embodies to perfection the compassionate teacher.

Jose Llana equally impresses as the King of Siam. Brilliantly sharp and incredibly witty he has a playful, cheeky charisma winning the audience over in an instant despite his characters archaic opinions on women.

The connection between the two feels genuine and well developed cementing the climactic scene as they waltz around the stage during Shall We Dance? as one of the most joyful moments you’re likely to witness in the theatre.

They are supported by a superbly talented supporting cast with special mention going to both Cezarah Bonner as Lady Thiang, Aaron Teoh as Prince Chulalongkorn and Kamm Kunaree as Tipton.

High praise must also go to the incredibly talented children in the show who together with Beechey deliver a delightfully endearing version of audience favourite Getting To Know You while Billy Marlow impresses enormously as young Louis Leonowens.

The pace of this rich production is consistent throughout with the significance of the story convincingly expressed. The King and I proves there is no puzzlement in its status as a timeless classic: this is a truly epic and joyous production both visually and musically. Thrilling in its scale and spectacular in its delivery, the King and I is a dazzling must-see.

The King and I is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 11th May here.

 

Abigail’s Party

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First premiered in 1977 at London’s Hampstead Theatre then broadcast on the BBC that same year, Mike Leigh’s ingenious Abigail’s Party brings to brilliant life the most painfully awkward cocktail party in the most hilarious & enthralling of ways.

Suburban housewife Beverly has set the scene for her soirée; she’s prepped the cheese & pineapple on sticks, switched on the fibre optic lamp & stocked the drinks cabinet in readiness for the arrival of new neighbours Angela (Vicky Binns) and Tony (Callum Callaghan). Also invited is neighbour Sue (Rose Keegan) who is escaping 15-year-old daughter Abigail’s party over at her own house. Beverly’s husband Lawrence (Daniel Casey) is also in attendance in between running errands while his wife prepares to schmooze.

Janet Bird’s inspired set transports us right back to the 70’s as knowing giggles ripple through the audience from the off when Beverly enters the chintzy wood panelled living room cigarette in mouth, gin in hand, decked head to toe in garish paisley she glides around the stage to the sensuous sounds of Donna Summer.

Some spikey exchanges take place between Beverly and husband Lawrence before their guests arrive offering the opportunity for our brash hostess to really come into her own. She is liberal with both the booze and her opinions as some of the small talk soon begins to sting.

Jodie Prenger is exceptional as the infamous Beverly, getting more and more grotesquely brilliant as the gin flows. So versatile in her skills she embodies the desperate housewife to perfection. Daniel Casey gives a great performance as Lawrence keeping his pent-up irritation with wife Beverly hidden to begin with until pushed to breaking point when things quickly start to unravel.

Vicky Binns as Angela is eager to please her new neighbour, her genuine naivety and optimism making her all the more endearing. Her inane chatter leads to some terse tellings off from frustrated husband Tony whom Callum Callaghan portrays convincingly.

Rose Keegan shines as fifth party guest Sue, quiet and polite despite some overly familiar probing questions she gives a hilarious performance as the single guest caught in the middle of two clearly unhappy couples.

Director Sarah Esdaile at times focuses less on the uncomfortable interactions and undercurrent of frustration & more on the humour of the piece. Traditionally tense moments are played a little more for laughs than they were in the famous Alison Steadman led version, this does dilute the emotional impact of the ending a little however with such superbly executed performances the is no doubt that this is an enormously entertaining piece.

Although Abigail’s Party is very firmly set in the 1970’s its genius lies in its hilarious and at times painfully honest study on human interaction, ambition and all the complexities that come with it. Littered with laugh out loud humour and moments to make your toes curl Abigail’s Party is wonderfully entertaining theatre with themes as relevant today as they were 40 years ago, the most eventful party you’ll ever be invited to.

Abigail’s Party is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 13th April tickets available here.

The Full Monty

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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The Full Monty arrived back in Manchester this week and judging by the whoops and excited cheers from the audience when Gary Lucy and Co take to the stage their return is very welcome.

Adapted from Simon Beaufoy’s 1997 film of the same name, The Full Monty tells the story of six out of work Sheffield steel workers, bored, broke and battling various issues of their own.

Gary Lucy as Gaz is behind on his child maintenance, his custodial problems worsening by the day. Best mate Dave’s (Kai Owen) confidence is rock bottom and his relationship with wife Jean (Liz Carney) is suffering. After stumbling upon a Chippendales night at the local social club Gaz sees an opportunity to earn a quick buck and hopefully prove to son Nathan (Fraser Kelly) he’s not a complete failure.

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Right from the off it’s clear what the audience are here for; they want a reet good laugh and of course ‘that’ infamous scene at the end of the show. Each teasing flash of flesh is lapped up as this story familiar to many begins to play out. Fans of the film will be glad to know the adaptation has been respectfully done, characters remain the same ones they fell in love with back in the 90’s and the northern witty one-liners come thick and fast.

Designer Robert Jones has translated the industrial disused steelworks into an effective and efficient set, doubling up as offices, social clubs and performance space with ease.

What starts off as feel-good escapism soon deepens into something more as we see friendships grow, self-respect return and important issues raised. Beaufoy’s script doesn’t shy away from sensitive themes; suicide, sexuality and self-worth are all covered here but done so in a typically northern no-nonsense fashion where problems are faced with a laugh and a joke but at all times a genuine warmth.

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Heading up the cast Gary Lucy is clearly an audience favourite although his accent takes a trip across the Pennines on more than one occasion the audience lap up his cheeky banter as Gaz the Lad. Fraser Kelly as son Nathan is convincing and committed, leading you to question just who is raising who here. Kai Owen as Gaz’s best mate Dave gives a warm and relatable performance while both Joe Gill as Lomper and Andrew Dunn as Gerald shine in their respective roles. Louis Emerick as Horse proves despite a dodgy hip he’s still got the moves while James Redmond as Guy proves he’s packing more than just a girder down there!

The Full Monty is an entertaining night out, a heart-warming story delivered in a fun and feel-good way with more than enough laughs to send you home smiling.

Catch The Full Monty at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 23rd February tickets available here.

 

Annie

Annie 2

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Nikolai Foster’s revival of family favourite musical Annie has gone from strength to strength since it first debuted at the West Yorkshire Playhouse back in 2011. With a sell-out UK tour in 2015/16 followed by an extended run in the West End plus a recent sell-out season in Toronto all safely tucked under its belt; Annie is back on the road for 2019 opening a new UK tour here in Manchester.

Set in New York during the Great Depression it is indeed a hard-knock life for 11 year old orphan Annie who finds herself living in miserable, gin-swilling Miss Hannigan’s all-girl orphanage. Consumed with a fierce determination to find her real parents Annie manages to escape the boozy clutches of Miss Hannigan when she is picked to spend Christmas at the residence of famous billionaire, Oliver Warbucks. However Miss Hannigan and her good-for-nothing brother Rooster aren’t quite done with orphan Annie and set about trying their best to get in the way of her happy ending.

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Based on Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie comic strips the original musical opened on Broadway in 1977, it is however the 1982 film starring Albert Finney, Bernadette Peters and Eileen Quinn that remains most firmly etched in many people’s minds. It was without doubt one of the most worn out VHS tapes in my house, my sisters and I knowing every line, my eldest sister can still be called upon to belt out a deafening rendition of ‘Rover, why not think it over?’ should the need arise. With clearly many other Annie fans at the Opera House tonight it’s a welcome relief to see that director Nikolai Foster’s production respects the audiences love for this piece and has kept the changes to a minimum. It is still packed full of unforgettable classics including Hard Knock Life, Tomorrow, Easy Street and Little Girls while Miss Hannigan remains gin-guzzlingly awful but has a new technicoloured vibrancy about it.

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Its colourful escapism is reflected in Colin Richmond’s intricate set and costume design, jigsaw pieces scattered across the set reflecting Annie’s journey as piece by piece her life and identity come together all beautifully lit by Ben Cracknell. Yes at times it is schmaltzy but heck if Annie can make the President of the United States sit up and listen just imagine what she could do if unleashed into Brexit negotiations!

A large part of what makes Annie so endearing is of course the kids in the show and they really do make this production. Taziva-Faye Katsande is a charming and confident Annie supported perfectly by Team Chrysler for this evenings press night, each girl is outstanding bursting with life and vibrant energy with little Orla McDonagh threatening to steal the show as Molly on what is her professional debut.

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Anita Dobson makes for a cranky and world weary Miss Hannigan while Alex Bourne as Daddy Warbucks transforms before our eyes from hardnosed business man to smitten adoptive father. The ensemble deliver Nick Winston’s inventive choreography with sass and style adding exuberant energy to the much-loved musical numbers.

Annie is feel-good family fun, a real celebration of courage and innocent optimism as well as a wonderful reminder to us all that when the hard knocks come we need to find our inner strength and fight back remembering what seems impossible today will look different tomorrow. Joyful family entertainment with a great story at it’s heart.

On at The Opera House until Saturday 16th February tickets available here.

 

 

 

Win a VIP Motown experience!

dancing in the streets - girls centre

Smash-hit West End sensation Motown The Musical arrives at Manchester’s Opera House next month and music fans across the north west are being asked to share their memories of this magical music to be in with a chance to win an incredible VIP experience which includes tickets to watch the show on press night (27th February) as well as the chance to meet the cast backstage.

All you have to do to be in with a chance to win this amazing prize is share your Motown memories from when either the Tamla-Motown Revue UK tour featuring The Supremes, Martha and The Vandellas, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles and Stevie Wonder visited Manchester in 1965 or when The Jackson 5 played the King’s Hall in Gorton as part of their European tour back in 1972.

Motown The Musical as well as the Opera House would love to hear your memories of these ground-breaking gigs, whether it be pictures or anicdotes you may have.

To enter simply send written details of your memories to the marketing team via the following menthods

Email: commentsmcr@theambassadors.com

Post: Marketing Department, c/o Manchester Palace Theatre, Stage Door, 97 Oxford St, Manchester, M1 6FT

All entries must be received by 5pm on Friday 15th February 2019. Entries must include a name, address and telephone number and winners will be notified no later than Friday 22nd February 2019.

Motown The Musical tells the story of Berry Gordy’s world-famous Motown record label, which gave rise to huge stars such as The Jackson 5, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. The production is heading to the Manchester’s Opera House from Tuesday February 26th – Saturday 23rd March tickets can be booked here.

 

 

 

 

 

Interview| Kinky Boots Cast | Callum Francis | Joel Harper-Jackson |Paula Lane

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Based on the 2005 hit screenplay by Tim Firth, the musical which first opened on Broadway in 2012 has become a worldwide sensation receiving an incredible 13 Tony Award nominations, winning 6 including Best Musical and Best Score. In 2016 following it’s West End premiere the awards kept on coming with an incredible three highly prized Olivier Award wins.

After an incredible opening night at Manchester’s Opera House, earning 5 star reviews across the board and receiving one of the most enthusiastic standing ovations we have EVER seen, we were lucky enough to catch up with Kinky Boots stars, Callum Francis who plays Lola, Joel Harper-Jackson who plays Charlie and Paula Lane who takes on the role of Lauren.

Opening Night: With all three of you having connections to Manchester how did last nights opening night feel for you?

Paula: I’ll be honest I felt a little more nervous than usual last night, I’d said to Helen who plays Nicola, “You’re gonna have to give me a little pep talk just before the show” and she did and was great, some really wise words which really helped and then once I came on stage the love we got back from the audience was just unbelievable.

Callum: It was another level last night it really was.

Joel: I don’t well ever forget the reaction from Manchester, we all had friends and family in last night and the energy was just the best, it was incredible.

Callum: We’ve all been so excited to get to Manchester, it’s been so brilliant in all the other cities we’ve been to and now we’re here in Manchester we just all feel so lucky.

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ON: This is such a well loved show, is there a pressure in delivering the first ever UK tour?

Callum: Yes, I would say so but then I do feel that doing this show anywhere comes with a lot of pressure, the incredible message of acceptance is more than just playing a part in a show it’s a reponsibility, people comes and soon realise it’s much more than just a show. People are really learning something as well as having a great time. I think anywhere you do it be it the first tour, be it in the West End, the responsibility is still massive. There are some incredible fans out there, there’s one fan in particular who saw me in London, she travelled to Australia, she’s already been to three venues on this tour and is coming to Broadway to see the show, so you also want to get it absolutely right for those committed fans, old and new.

Paula: I actually see it slightly different in a sense as it’s a show which has won so many awards and clearly is a fantastic musical the mould is already there so we’re all already onto a winner, it can’t not be great because it’s such an incredible show to be involved in, it’s an honour.

Callum: This show has taken over the world, it might be coming to an end in certain places but there’s something about it that will be talked about forever. The show itself is an absolute legend along with the legends who put it together, it’s a brilliantly made show, brilliantly written with brilliant music, it’s just taken over.

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ON: Do you think the message of inclusivity is key to the success of Kinky Boots?

Callum: Yes I think so 100%, it’s still needed, the message of acceptance is still one that needs to be pushed.

Joel: We’ve come on a massive way, but there is still such a way to go, massively. Any person who comes along to the show who maybe has been dragged along by their wife and doesn’t really want to go, they are the people who need to hear this message and incredibly they are always the people who are up on their feet at the end of the show.

Callum: I had an audience in Melbourne where I was booed constantly, a lot of rugby guys in the audience who took the show to be more like a pantomime, they cheered for Don, absolutely loved Don and at the interval the rest of the cast were all checking if I was ok, and I told them all I was absolutely fine as I know how this show works and how different parts affect the audience and after Not My Fathers Son it changed and they were the ones up on their feet, cheering and then even went round to stage door asking for pictures, I literally saw a group of men completely change their minds in front of me, it was amazing and I had no doubt that that would happen by the end.

Paula: There was a stand out moment for me on our first night here in Manchester and I caught the eye of a young boy in the audience, aged maybe about 10 and his face at the end was just beaming. I think hearing that positive message of acceptance when you are so young is exactly what needs to happen.

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ON: It’s such an uplifting, high-energy show, we literally left the theatre beaming and that was just watching, how do you come down after such an energetic performance?

Callum: From an energy point of view we put so much into the show that we are tired at the end of the day which of course helps with relaxing afterwards.

Joel: I was so tired after last nights show but I just couldn’t switch off once I did go to bed, it was just such a buzz.

Paula: It’s really hard to come down but I’ve got two children who I need to FaceTime at a reasonable hour as they don’t understand working late and different bodyclocks, if they get up at 6am they get up at 6am.

Callum: When I was the understudy in London I actually used to bake when I got home. I used to get in, make something, pop it in the oven then go and shower and by the time it was done that had relaxed me and I’d then decorate what I’d baked in the morning.

Paula: Can you start baking again now?

Callum: Ha ha if I did it now you’d find I’m so exhausted you’d find my watch or something would be in it or my rings, glitter you name it ha ha.

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ON: Callum, you have some incredibly quick changes as you change from Lola to Simon, what’s your secret?

Callum: Lint rollers gets glitter it off brilliantly. All of my changes are quick changes, I stand in the wing just before the alleyway scene, holding my bag and I’m like ‘ok, here we go, I’m about to begin and then I’ll stop in about 2 hours’ it’s so much fun though we all have such a laugh. During Everybody Say Yeah last night I caught both Paula and Joel’s eyes and it just felt so so good. The energy you put in you get back ten fold.

ON: The show features themes of family and acceptance, were your families always supportive of your career choices?

Joel: Not always, my Dad was builder with his own building company and similar to Charlie really my Dad wanted me to work with him and I was studying drama and he would tell me not to pursue anything in drama because it was too hard but thanks goodness I had my biggest fan who is my Mum who would say “Don’t you listen to your Dad you can do this”. But yesterday really was amazing as he said to me at the end of the show “I am so proud of you”.

Callum: He said that to me too, not about me ha ha but about Joel, he turned to me and said “You think he’s good don’t you? And I said yes I do and he said, yes so do I”.

Joel: Callum’s Dad is so proud of him too, he said back in the day Callum would go to parties when he was a child and he wouldn’t want to stay and socialise but last night he he said “And now look at my boy”.

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Callum: I’m so lucky I’ve been so brilliantly supported, I’m the youngest of five boys and my Grandparents, my Mum and Dad from day 1 have supported me. In 2004 I watched a show at the Palace theatre and thought to myself I think I could do that and within the year I got everything ready to move away, my Dad helped and said we’ll find the money and do whatever we need to do. He’s always been my champion. He’s absolutely desperate and I haven’t mentioned this to any of the producers but he’s desperate to be the Dad in the chair after Hold Me In Your Heart.

Joel: Oh yes how amazing would that be! I’m telling them, that would be so incredible.

Callum: My Grandad is 81 and his background on his phone is me in the red dress, he’s brilliant. I’ve been so extremely lucky.

Paula: I’m lucky too, my Mum is a nurse and I’d told her that’s what I had decided I was going to do and she said “look you can do that anytime I really want you to try and pursue this”. She’s seen me go from high to low, she’s seen me in some really dark places and then it just comes right. My husband is equally supportive and often says “Something will always turn up” and you have to have that belief in yourself.

Callum: You absolutely have to have that belief, even though it’s an amazing industry and we’re loving life right now it can be an extremely lonely one at the same time. But, I would absolutely still do it, even knowing how hard and how lonely it can be I would still do it.

Joel: The highs really make up for it.

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ON: Now about those boots….!

Callum: The blue heels are the hardest, Jerry the director and choreographer didn’t want any stilettos in the show until the finale apart from my blue ones because I’m teaching Charlie and the factory gang about stillettos, they had to be the 6 inch stiletto. But, because they are ankle boots they don’t have the full support of the full leg boots we wear at the finale so it is a challenge.

Paula: Due to timing/quick change I get the red shoes but they too are so hard to dance in, the amount of surface area on the floor is tiny. When Charlie spins me round I have to be careful I don’t just keep on spinning, one day if I’m a bit egar everyone’s gonna be looking saying ‘yep she’s still going!’ but at least I can style it out as ditzy Lauren.

Callum: The two hardest dance numbers have the hardest shoes to wear ha ha. Joel on the other hand was an absolute natural! He put them on and it was like he’d literally been born to wear then.

Joel: It was actually harder to look like I couldn’t walk in them. The falling over part is the biggest challenge to make it look realistic as I was so comfortable in them from the start!

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ON: Finally Callum we have to ask you how did you feel when you got the call about Broadway?

Callum: It’s an absolute dream come true, it’s so strange to be able to talk about it now. I’ve actually known since February and now the news is finally out, it feels incredible. I’ll be getting to make my Broadway debut with a part that has changed my life completely, it’s amazing I am so so lucky.

And we’re lucky enough to have the show in Manchester for a limited 3 week run. You can catch Kinky Boots at the Opera House until Saturday 1st December and take advantage of a final opportunity to catch Callum Francis as Lola before he heads off to Broadway. Tickets available here.

Kinky Boots – Opera House – Manchester until Saturday 1st December

http://www.kinkybootsthemusical.co.uk

Kinky Boots

Kinky

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Broadway and West End sensation Kinky Boots has hit the road on its first ever UK tour and if you were ever in any doubt that these boots were made for walking the deafening roar of last night standing ovation should comfortably settle any such fears.

Based on the 2005 British film written by Geoff Dearne and Tim Firth this superb show with music and lyrics from the legendary Cyndi Lauper serves fierce, feel-good fun with a capital F.

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Charlie Price (Joel Harper-Jackson) is left the failing family business when his shoemaker father passes away, leaving him torn between saving the family business and the jobs of the friends he’s come to know as family or giving it all up to follow his girlfriend Nicola (Helen Ternent) to a life in London.

After a chance meeting with spectacular drag queen Lola, Charlie soon begins to realise he may just have the power within him to save the factory and indeed save himself as he explores the challenges of following his heart and learning how to be who he truly wants to be.

Joel Harper-Jackson last seen in the city in Hope Mill Theatre’s 2017 production of Little Women is superb as Charlie. Torn by the decision he faces he brings genuine warmth and powerful emotion to the role which ensures the audience are rooting for him from the start. Particularly impressive is his powerful delivery of the challenging ballad Soul Of A Man, note perfect in his execution and packing a powerful emotional punch.

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The relationship between Harper-Jackson and Lola (Callum Francis) is an absolute joy to watch; as their friendship grows so does our affection for them both.

Francis gives a world-class performance as the outrageously brilliant Lola, fierce and utterly fabulous he is completely mesmerising, you literally cannot take your eyes off him. It comes as no surprise to learn he’s off to Broadway soon to take up the role there, how lucky we are that we get to see him in Manchester for 3 whole weeks first.

He entirely dazzles as Lola, oozing sass and style one moment then grabbing you right in the feels the next during the heartfelt tender ballads I’m Not My Father’s Son and Hold Me In Your Heart. Commanding and charismatic you’d struggle to find a better performer on any side of the pond.

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Paula Lane makes a welcome return to Manchester bringing great humour to the role of factory girl Lauren who falls hopelessly in love with Charlie. Clearly an audience favourite she is kooky, kitch and magnificent fun.

The real show-stopping moments which push the story forward at a perfect pace belong of course to Lola’s magnificent angels, as they back-flip and high kick their way through electrifying numbers showing off Jerry Mitchell’s choreography to perfection. In addition to the angels the incredibly hardworking and hugely entertaining ensemble cast come together so tightly they truly lift this show to the next level.

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There aren’t many shows you’d happily stay in your seat and watch immediately again, Kinky Boots is undoubtedly one of them.

It’s witty script and effortlessly catchy score deliver and then some, while its message of love and acceptance really touches the heart. There is glitz & glamour in this high-kicking, high-energy show but at its heart is a joyous, uplifting and deeply moving story. A kinky, kick-ass treat!

On at the Opera House until Saturday 1st Dec here.