Kinky Boots (Adelphi Theatre)
September 18, 2015  //  By:   //  Musicals, Reviews  //  Comments are off

5169-1442324492-kinkybootsphotobymattcrockett5340rtIt feels strange to be writing about my hometown in the context of the West End. Indeed, besides a decent rugby team, Northampton is predominantly famous for shoes – it’s why every schoolchild visits the shoe and boots museum, and why the local football team is nicknamed the Cobblers. But sometimes what theatre is best at is making big drama out of small scale stories. Kinky Boots, based on a true story, is a brilliant example.

Much of that brilliance comes from the ensemble of dazzling drag queens, which includes ex-Voice contestant Matt Henry in the lead role of Lola and X Factor runner-up Marcus Collins (yes, that’s more reality stars infiltrating the West End). If you hadn’t guessed by the title, Kinky Boots is a musical of high camp and naughty sexual charm, with the glam quota upped considerably by the men in heels (and some meaty tucks). Just as they bring some sparkle to the otherwise dreary world of a Northampton shoe factory, they truly light up the stage with every entrance.

It’s in this shoe factory that we’re introduced to protagonist Charlie Price (Killian Donnelly, fresh from his starring role in Memphis). Tragically forced to take over the family business that’s rapidly losing custom, a chance meeting with Lola inspires him to reinvigorate his shoe-line with boots specifically designed for drag queens. It’s a fairly lightweight narrative based on the 2005 British comedy film of the same name, and the show is overall stronger in the first act where it relies more on song and spectacle than story.

That doesn’t stop book writer Harvey Fierstein from exploring some big themes. The idea of wishing to leave small town Northampton in favour of the city lights of London certainly hits a personal chord, but more so the show is about accepting difference and making the most of what you’ve got.

That’s something Cyndi Lauper certainly does with her economic score. There aren’t a huge number of songs compared to other shows, but every single one is an 80s-inspired smash hit – something you’d probably expect from someone with such a pop pedigree, but without sounding dated. The overall feel is pop-rock with a dash of funk, as on the exuberant “Everybody Say Yeah”, but the queens usher in a change of style to campy synth pop – “Sex Is In The Heel” is utterly anthemic, whilst closing number “Raise You Up/Just Be” is basically Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” with even more of an 80s twist. It’s not all about fun though. “Take What You Got” is a more straightforward rock ballad that genuinely wouldn’t sound out of place in the charts. The best song of all? “Not My Father’s Son” that cuts to the emotional core of the show.

Donnelly doesn’t quite get to stretch his vocal chords as much as he did in Memphis, but here his vocal range is certainly impressive (despite singing anachronistically in an Irish/American accent). His characterisation of Charlie, however, feels a little bland. Perhaps, though, that’s merely in comparison to Henry’s Lola. More butch queen than glamorous diva, he nevertheless brings enough sass and personality to more than fill those kinky boots. He’s more impressive still in the slower numbers: the dark husky colour of his soulful voice makes “Not My Father’s Son” an absolute tearjerker. Still, his spotlight is heavily threatened by Amy Lennox as factory worker Lauren who falls for Charlie – not only is her solo number the funniest moment of the show, her Northampton accent is spot on (trust me).

It all takes place on a revolving set that cleverly morphs from the bleak shoe factory to the vibrant lights of the drag stage. The use of conveyor belts also allows for some spectacularly choreographed numbers. It means that Kinky Boots has everything: spectacle, infectious music, emotional performances, boundless razzle-dazzle, and lots and lots of shoes.

The result is probably the best night out on the West End. Kinky Boots is simply pure feelgood entertainment. No matter how bad your day, how miserable you feel, or if you’re even in the mood for something a little kinky, this is one show that’s guaranteed to put a huge grin on your face.

Just say yeah.

Reviewed by Ed Nightingale
www.thegizzlereview.com
@ed_nights

Photo: Matt Crockett