Friday, 18 September 2015

Theatre review: Kinky Boots at the Adelphi Theatre



©Matt Crocket

In 2013 I went to New York with a friend for a theatre-heavy trip seeing nearly 10 shows in just one week. It was glorious. There were some productions we were keen to see straight off the bat, such as The Book of Mormon and Disney's Newsies, and there were others we discovered while there, including Peter and the Starcatcher and the joyful Kinky Boots. The latter I knew little about other than that the buzz around Broadway was all about these shiny red boots in the week before the Tony Awards, for which it was nominated for no less than 13 Tonys (and ended up winning a season-high of six of them, including Best Musical). All well-deserved, we thought, as it was one of the highlights of our trip and with the cast recording taking a top spot on our playlists, the feel-good enjoyment we felt after leaving the Al Hirschfeld Theatre continued for long after we had arrived back in the UK. So you can image our delight when this sassy show strutted into London's West End this month.


Set in England's Northampton, it feels as if Kinky Boots had finally returned to its rightful home. Based on the 2005 feature film starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Joel Edgerton, it tells the tale of shoe factory Price and Son, which is at risk of being closed down because they've been out-marketed by cheaper alternatives. The only way Charlie Price (Killian Donnelly) can save the factory is if he follows in the footsteps of similar companies and find a new niche market. That's where flamboyant drag queen Lola (Matt Henry) comes in, who is in desperate need of a pair of knee-high boots that can support the weight of a man while at the same time keeping the feminine design and spiky heels he adores so much. It's a challenge Charlie is eager to accept to take his mind off the pain of his father's recent passing, which has left him so suddenly in charge of the family-run business – a responsibility he is not sure he is cut out for.

Kinky Boots follows hot on the heels of subpar factory musical Made in Dagenham, which played at the Adelphi Theatre just prior, and is proof that it is possible to have a second industrial British show entertaining audiences in London besides musical theatre darling Billy Elliot. Despite tackling similar themes, such as acceptance and diversity, Kinky Boots takes itself far less seriously and ramps up the silliness to create a feel-good fun evening for the whole family. The straight-forward book by musical theatre great Harvey Fierstein is complemented well by the catchy tunes from the legend that is Cyndi Lauper and the tight direction and choreography I've come to know and love from Jerry Mitchell (who is also behind the delightful Dirty Rotten Scoundrels). The whole production looks slick and stylish, befitting the snazzy shoes it focuses on.

The show is not without its flaws, however, and particularly lead character Charlie suffers as he is heavily overshadowed by the much flashier role of Lola. Killian Donnelly, who was brilliant as Huey Calhoun in Memphis, does an admirable job as the sweet-natured, reluctant factory-owner, but it's a thankless role and he is not given much to work with. When he does get his moment in the spotlight, he takes it with two eager hands and then some. His heartfelt rendition of Soul of a Man in the second act was incredibly powerful and one that stunned the audience into silence after the mostly non-stop clap-along spectacle involving Lola and the Angels during upbeat numbers such as Land of Lola, Sex is in the Heel and Everybody Say Yeah. Matt Henry unsurprisingly shines as the star of this show as he was sensational as both the spunky Lola and the far less confident Simon. It is no easy task to follow in the footsteps of Tony-winner Billy Porter, but Matt has risen to the occasion and embraced the sexy red knee-high boots with sass and flair.

With showstopping spectacle Everybody Say Yeah, which boost some seriously exciting choreography, closing the first act and the equally contagiously catchy Raise You Up/Just Be providing a toe-tappingly fun-filled-finale, audiences are guaranteed to be buzzing about Kinky Boots during the interval and long after leaving the Adelphi Theatre. The slightly slower moments in between are easily forgotten when the aforementioned hummable tunes get stuck in your head for days after having seen the musical. Containing not only some fantastic music and impressively choreographed scenes, but a heartwarming message too, this is one show that will undoubtedly appeal to a broad audience; from ladies to gentlemen to those who have yet to make up their minds.




Kinky Boots is playing at the Adelphi Theatre and is currently taking bookings until 6 February 2016. You can book tickets here.

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