Review: Kinky Boots (Adelphi Theatre, London)

I went into Kinky Boots expecting to be mildly entertained. I came out ready to walk straight back in and watch it all over again.

Set in the Price and Son shoe factory, Kinky Boots starts off with Charlie Price learning about the art of shoe design from his father – it’s been the family skill for generations and Charlie is being forced to continue the legacy. We also meet a boy named Simon from Clacton, who will later go on to become the show’s main star, Lola – he is rejected by his father for wanting to wear high heeled shoes.

Later in life, Charlie (played by Killian Donnelly) who has returned from London after the death of his father and Lola (played by Matt Henry) pair up in an effort to keep the factory open – Charlie bringing years of shoe-making knowledge; Lola bringing designs suitable only for the best drag queens. The story centres on their working relationship, the journey they go through with prejudiced co-workers, and the steps they take to get their shoes to Milan in an effort to show the designs to the world.

On the whole the book by Harvey Fierstein holds its own in what could easily have been a clichéd mess. Both Charlie and Lola are given enough time and focus to develop and get the audience on side, but it’s the ballsy Lola that really gets given centre stage. From the first strut on stage to the power ballad tear jerker and sleek finale, Henry is up on that stage living and breathing Lola – if he doesn’t run away with all the accolades come awards season, I’ll be very surprised.

Admittedly, the other characters in the show aren’t given as much focus – the remaining factory workers are all a little light and pantomime, but in a musical where the comedy is played above the drama that’s to be expected. And the female love interests, Lauren (played by Amy Lennox) and Nicola (Amy Ross), feel like last minute additions to the book rather than being core to the narrative. However, Lennox in particular does wonders with what is quite a small role.

Following the Broadway run, I’d seen a mixed response to the Cyndi Lauper music and lyrics. A mixed bag which wasn’t helped on the cast recording by some less than convincing Northampton accents. In the hands of a British cast, the accents are now (almost) on point, and I have to say the music has never sounded better. It’s by no means perfect but it’s light and fluffy, and fun in all right places – see the Angels’ opening number ‘Land of Lola’ or act one finale ‘Everybody say yeah’ – while not being afraid to take a more serious hiatus to aide the characterisation – Lola’s ‘Hold me in your heart’ had plenty of the audience shedding a tear, while ‘Soul of a man’ is Killian Donnelly’s one chance to take the limelight with a big powerful ballad.

At the end of the day though, the music is fun and does the job of getting the audience buzzing, and as someone who normally sits firmly in my seat until the appropriate moment of the curtain call, I couldn’t wait to get up during the closing number ‘Raise you up/Just be’.

Visually, I’ll admit I was a little disappointed. There’s only really one set change in the show – from the factory floor to the Milan catwalk, but what is there works well. The factory ends up being used to represent a number of locations, and there’s enough going on on stage to keep it feeling fresh throughout. With Jerry Mitchell’s outstanding choreography on show, I really couldn’t care less what was going on behind the actors anyway.

Special mention this time around has to go to Lola’s Angels. Six drag queens dressed in high heels and lighting up the stage every time they made an appearance. With quite frankly ridiculous legs and abs on show, they delivered the majority of Mitchell’s choreography flawlessly, and had every man, woman and those who have yet to make up their mind in awe.

Verdict: ★★★★☆
Is it a flawless production? No. Is it the show I’m going to be recommending to literally everyone I know? Absolutely. The music was spot on, the book is full of just the right amount of comedy, Matt Henry in the lead is enough of an excuse for anyone to make a return trip. If you choose to sit this one out, you’d be absolutely crazy. And London feels all the fresher for having a musical so fun back in the listings.

(Update: 07/11/15) An impromptu return trip thanks to Kinky Boots’ day lottery scheme meant that at today’s matinee I was on the front row, up close and personal, with Lola and the Angels. Second viewings of a show almost always make me start to see the faults, but on this occasion I loved it even more than the first trip. None of the energy has gone since my last trip during the preview period, and many of the cast, including Killian Donnelly, now seem more settled into their roles. Will I be making a third trip to see it? Most probably…

Kinky Boots is now booking at the Adelphi Theatre until 28th May 2016. Tickets are available for purchase at the Adelphi Theatre website here.

And the seat…

Upper circle, row D, seat 14. This seat was OK. While it would have had an uninterrupted view ordinarily, the woman in front decided to lean forward which meant I was dodging side to side throughout. It was also not the most comfortable I have sat in at the Adelphi and seemed limited in legroom compared to normal. Still a perfectly adequate option on a budget.

Adelphi Theatre, Upper Circle, Row D, Seat 14
Adelphi Theatre, Upper Circle, Row D, Seat 14

Stalls, row A, seat 12. While the stage at the Adelphi isn’t the lowest, the viewing angle wasn’t uncomfortable because the seats are set slightly back (thanks orchestra pit!). Being this close really did add something to the performance that you don’t get from being further back, and unlike other front rows I have sat on the sound was absolutely great. Would highly recommend trying for the lottery if you get chance.

Adelphi Theatre, Stalls, Row A, Seat 12
Adelphi Theatre, Stalls, Row A, Seat 12
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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Philip says:

    I cannot wait to see this in a couple of weeks. Loved it on Broadway and, like you, wanted to go straight back in again after the end!

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