Kinky Boots ~ Adelphi Theatre ~ 28.09.15

Having seen the show twice during previews, I knew what I was in for when I rocked up to the Adelphi for the third time.

On the surface, perhaps the show doesn’t appear to have all that much of interest to offer me, I certainly think there are shows with better storylines and there are shows with better soundtracks, but Kinky Boots is far greater than the sum of its parts with a fantastic ensemble cast, and a great pair of leads in Matt Henry and Killian Donnelly as Lola and Charlie.

It’s a little lightweight, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and ends with a highly positive (if perhaps a little cheesy) message of hope, empowerment and tolerance. It’s musical theatre, though, I think ‘a little bit cheesy’ is de rigueur – certainly with modern pieces.

Here’s the key element – the script is funny. The sassy character of Lola (Matt Henry) has some killer lines, in-keeping with the stereotypical view of drag queens perhaps, but additionally Amy Lennox is a great comic turn as Lauren – the girl-next-door who comes to see her hapless boss (Charlie) in a new light.

With his third lead role in as many years, Killian Donnelly has firmly established himself on the West End stage now, and it’s an accolade well-deserved. I don’t necessarily think this character is the most interesting one he’s played, however – and considering he left a fantastic part in Memphis for this role, it may seem a little more on the light side – but he sings it well and takes every opportunity to play up the comedy in his role as the double act straight man, a great contrast to what I have seen of him before where he has always been a cheeky instigator, rather than reactor.

An interesting element to the show, which gives it much more than the basic level “drag queen set in an industrial town and see how those worlds collide” overview, is the addition of Lola’s alter-ego Simon. Matt plays both sides to his character with such opposed styles yet the connection between the two remains believable. Lola’s brash, outlandish style against Simon’s crippling shyness and self-doubt, yet in numbers like “Hold Me In Your Heart”, you can see elements of both. Harvey Firstein’s work ought to be commended mainly for introducing this nuanced character to the scene. Perhaps most audiences will box Lola off as a gay man dressed as a woman, but actually that is never established and Fierstein himself has denied that Simon/Lola is gay. It’s interesting that people have fixated on that when the whole point of the musical is that it doesn’t matter, just be who you are. We still have some way to go, but Kinky Boots is doing its bit!

So, Kinky Boots, eh? Yes, it’s clunky at times whilst delivering its messages of positivity. Yes, some of the songs are unbearably cheesy – but Cyndi Lauper has dropped a few absolute gems in there too, which are ridiculously catchy and fun. Aside from the Lola-centric “Land of Lola” and “Sex Is In The Heel”, two brilliant numbers are “What a Woman Wants” – a modern tango argument between Lola and the women and factory bully Don – and “In This Corner”, a musical accompaniment to a fight between Lola/Simon and Don, which features some stunning vocals by Marcus Collins, with one of the costuming highlights – do look out for that. And Yes, I do feel the characters of Charlie and Nicole are a little on the flat side. But – this musical has the Angels in it. It’s a winner for me!

 

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