Kinky Boots

  • Musical
  • Director: Jerry Mitchell
  • Book: Harvey Fierstein
  • Music & Lyrics: Cyndi Lauper
  • Cast includes: Killian Donnelly, Matt Henry, Amy Lennox, Jamie Baughan, Amy Ross, Michael Hobbs and full supporting cast.
  • The Adelphi Theatre, London
  • Opened 15th September 2015, open run
  • Review by Richard Voyce
  • 17 September 2015
Kinky Boots
4.0Reviewer's Rating

A star is born! Well, alright then, a star is noticed by this reviewer, but if you don’t go to Kinky Boots, the new Harvey Fierstein/Cyndi Lauper musical which has just opened at The Adelphi, for any other reason, go to see the astonishing and charismatic Amy Lennox as Lauren, a character not even warranting a second name but the next Sheridan Smith in terms of charisma and comedic timing. In a cast already awash with talent, she shines like a diamond.

Having originally opened in 2012 in Chicago and moved to Broadway in 2013 where it won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Choreography (for Jerry Mitchell, who helms the project here in London) Kinky Boots is based on the 2005 film of the same name itself based on the true story of WJ Brooks Limited a maker of traditional men’s shoes who, faced with closure after being undercut by cheap foreign imports, decided to diversify into making shoes and boots in women’s styles but men’s sizes.

The story as told by Fierstein’s book, refocuses the film slightly to be about two men, and their discovery that they’re really more alike than they at first think. However, it never fully satisfies for a couple of reasons, more of which later.

Killian Donnelly, most recently seen as Huey Calhoun in Memphis at The Shaftesbury plays Charlie Price, the straight-laced young son of a shoe factory owner thrown in at the deep end when his father dies leaving him the responsibility he doesn’t really want to have to deal with. While trying to offload some of his mountain of cancelled orders, to a friend and fellow footwear heir in London, Charlie comes into contact – I use the word advisedly – with Lola, a big black and beautiful drag queen played with evident gusto by Matt Henry.

Although Donnelly has plentiful stage presence his annoying vowels really start to grate after a while. Singing any word ending ‘me’ as ‘mey’ really is only allowed if you’re Patti LuPone.

Henry sings, and more importantly dances, with authentic fervour in a range of outfits (excellent costume design all round by Gregg Barnes) and heels to the evident delight of the audience who seem to go mad each time he’s on stage.

Anyway, Lola helps Charlie re-design his footwear, re-launching the brand at Milan’s footwear expo, along the way discovering who he is. Similarly Charlie comes to realise that he really is ‘a shoe person’ through and through, along the way managing to excite then pick up the completely lovable Lauren, who has the best song in the show, the Act One ‘The History of Wrong Guys’.

The story finishes there, as does the film. Just as well, as Kinky Boots by WJ Brooks Ltd folded in around the year 2000, after being let down by an American firm who, in the words of Steve Pateman, the model for Charlie Price, ‘…dumped a big debt on us.’

It’s ironic therefore that it should be an American team that has brought Kinky Boots to London, and at a time when we’ve so recently seen the closure by Westminster Council of Madam Jo-Jo’s in Soho, the oldest, and certainly most iconic drag club in the capital where parts of the original movie were filmed.

The fact that the team, or at any rate the composer, is so American is one of the main problem with this show. The songs, though undoubtedly entertaining and well conceived here by Mitchell on stage are just not true to character. They just don’t sound like songs people from Northampton would sing which is a shame, as Fierstein’s book has, if anything, improved on the film giving the show a message of tolerance and understanding. They’re also, with few exceptions, eminently forgettable.

That being said, the awful accents and jarring anachronisms which appear on the American cast recording (suggestions that there would be a ‘laundromat’ in Northampton, for example) have been excises and are thankfully no longer an issue, and I really hope we’ll get a London Cast Recording as I suspect it will be more true to the creative intentions of the show.

As things are it’s two and a half hours of candy-floss. Glossy, well produced, well acted, sung, and danced candy-floss, but candyfloss nonetheless. The audience evidently enjoyed it tonight but how many of them, I wonder, will remember why in the morning.

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