Kinky Boots and the need to make your own honest way in life

What makes Kinky Boots – the award-winning musical currently playing in London at the Adelphi Theatre – so incredibly heart-warming? Well, it could be the exhilarating performances, clever lyrics and unforgettable music of Cyndi Lauper; or the fabulous costumes – high-heeled knee boots in a rainbow of shades, to go with sequinned dresses and Union Jack corsets.

But though it is down to all of those, Kinky Boots is far more than just a humorous and uplifting tale of drag queens and shoe salesmen; it is also a tender story of fathers and sons. Of understanding that by choosing your own destiny, you are not disrespecting your father.

The musical teaches us that by looking deep inside ourselves, and living in the most honest, heartfelt way imaginable, we honour the strength of our fathers, and prove ourselves worthy of love.

The audience imbibes this along with a feelgood effect that spills them out onto the London streets after the show, hugging, smiling and laughing. It is particularly interesting and moving to see how Kinky Boots unites men and women regardless of their gender or sexuality or age. Much like Priscilla Queen of the Desert, it is a celebration of diversity and acceptance.

The musical uses the practice of cross-dressing both as a plot device – a shoe factory finds a new pool of customers that will save it if the company abandons its old, staid designs in favour of making high heels for men – and also as a way of demonstrating how being true to oneself can be a release.

For example, boxer’s son Simon finds himself by creating the identity of Lola, the drag queen. When he dresses in suit and tie – however flamboyant – the male clothes do not offer him the same protection from his own lack of self-belief as his sequins and satins.

Lola says: “Put on a frock and I can sing Stand By Your Man in front of five hundred strangers … Put on a pair of jeans and I can’t even sodding well say hello.” The traditional factory workers may judge him, but the audience never does. It instinctively accepts Lola for who she is, as well as Simon for who he is, when he turns shoe designer.

But society’s approval and respect for diversity – which seems to me to go from strength to strength – is only part of this story. On a deeper level, the show explores the complex relationship between parents and children. Lola craves acceptance from his father who will not acknowledge a son who chooses to live this way. Charlie, the factory owner’s son, finds himself trying to live up to what he believes his father’s expectations were, even after the old man has died.

Together they explore these feelings in the pivotal duet Not My Father’s Son. In these sensitive lines lie the heart of the message:

The endless story of expectations swirling inside my mind

Wore me down

I came to a realization and I finally turned around

To see

That I could just be me

Bruno Wang, founder of the Pureland Foundation

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