Al Hirschfeld Theatre (this is obvi an old pcture, I've not seen greenery in months)

Al Hirschfeld Theatre (this is obviously an old picture; I’ve not seen greenery in months)

In a small corner of Northampton in the 1990s, there was a generations-old men’s shoe factory struggling to stay on its feet. One day, with its closing imminent, owner Steve Pateman received a phone call from a transgender shop owner he’d never met before.

‘You should be manufacturing women’s shoes built for men,’ Sue Sheppard – who was born Anthony – boomed down the phone from her store in Kent. ‘And before you say it – the market really isn’t that niche.’

After Sue’s lengthy sales pitch, Pateman was convinced – and got to work on turning the factory around.

But not only did the idea bear greater business for the family-owned factory, it also gave birth to a book, a movie and now a glitzy Broadway musical,Β Kinky Boots.

Kinky 2

(c) Matthew Murphy

Ryan’s Aunt Sue generously bought us matinee tickets, so last weekend, we battled the Times Square swarms and headed to the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on 45th Street. We found our seats in the section nearest to the stage (it’s a snug space by Broadway standards) and settled down.

The story has been somewhat tweaked from the original. Rather than a shop owner down South, the lifeline comes from a drag performer, Lola, who accidentally knocks out factory owner Charlie when he tries to protect her during a fight. He goes to watch her perform and, backstage, she complains that no shoe is sturdy enough to hold her weight. And so the idea for the Kinky Boots factory is born.

There was glitz, glam and glorious singing.

Best of all was Billy Porter, who was phenomenal as Lola. The minute he strutted on stage, he owned it with his sarcasm and soulfulness. Plus, he looked smokin in a mini skirt. He was surrounded by a bevvy of fellow drag performers and these were one of the highlights of the show. While none of them had any of their own lines, they had each crafted their own personality, which made them a joy to watch individually or as a group.

Kinky 1

(c) Matthew Murphy

They gave some respite among some of the heavier scenes, especially those in the factory, where the comradery was believable but the judgments, especially from the ‘real men’, were particularly hostile. But the real comic treat came courtesy of Annaleigh Ashford, who harbored a secret crush on her boss. Her awkwardness had the crowd roaring with laughter.

While I wasn’t so keen on Lola’s insistence on proving herself to be ‘a man’ (what’s so wrong with being a woman, eh?), the show dealt with a range of issues in a way that wasn’t just surface level. I particularly enjoyed Lola’s response when she was quizzed about her sexuality. She answered that no one loved women quite as much as she did – after all, her life was a tribute to them.

The music was predictably amazing – and you could tell it was by Cyndi Lauper. It was far more 80s than the rest of the production and pure American rock – so the cast sang it with American accents, which irked me a little. What had happened to Northampton?

And the accents. Oh dear god, the accents. A couple played it safe by adopting an RP tone, but most sounded like Northampton by way of Alabama, Dublin and Canada (the French part). It was initially really distracting and I have no idea why they weren’t given more training… but once the high kicks and shimmies began, I could ignore it and whoop with joy as they put aside their varying dialects to come together as one team.

Sadly the real Kinky Boots factory didn’t see the same happy ending. After the initial boost in business, the factory couldn’t survive and in 2006, it closed its doors before being sold off as apartments. Pateman now works as a full-time firefighter.

But in a recent interview, he said that the warmth of the friendships that were made on the factory floor will always endure.

‘It was always a sort of family,’ he told the BBCΒ – and I was pleased to see this is the one place the Broadway production stayed true to the original.