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Kinky Boots review at London’s Adelphi Theatre – ‘fun and frequently fabulous’

Matt Henry in Kinky Boots at the Adelphi Theatre. Photo: Matt Crocket Matt Henry (centre) in Kinky Boots. Photo: Matt Crocket
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One of the central messages of Kinky Boots, the new big budget Broadway stage musical version of the low-budget 2005 British film, is that “you change the world when you change your mind”. And true to that spirit, I’m happy to say I’ve changed my mind about the show since I saw its original Broadway production two years ago.  There, I couldn’t get past the dodgy accents as the cast dismally tried (and failed) to locate themselves in Northampton; nor could I believe it when it trumped the (still) far superior Matilda to the Tony Award for best musical.

But brought home now to England, it feels like a very authentic successor to Made in Dagenham, another musical transposed from a film about an industrial setting, which played at the Adelphi immediately before it — the theatre has swapped a car factory for a shoe-making one. There are other similarities: it, too, has a score by a first-time theatrical composer who is better known for work in other genres, namely pop singer-songwriter Cyndi Lauper (Dagenham’s music was scored by film composer David Arnold).

I suspect Kinky Boots may have legs and not just the muscular ones that are encased in thigh-high, stiletto-heeled footwear that are specially designed for transvestite use. It may seem an improbable niche market for an ailing Northampton shoe factory to service, but one that helps to prop people up in every sense, as Charlie Price (Killian Donnelly) finds himself abandoning a career in marketing in London to return to his home town to take over the family factory after his father dies. When he saves Lola, a drag queen (Matt Henry), from a mugging, he discovers that there’s an unserved market in the shoe industry, and Lola comes on board to save the business from a drubbing.

It’s a traditional enough behind-the-factory-walls musical, in the esteemed traditions of shows like The Pajama Game, but given a contemporary spin (and pop-accented score) by drawing on the inclusivity of the current embrace of all things transvestite. Of course, The Rocky Horror Show — itself newly revived in the West End for a short season — got there first over 40 years ago, but this story is grounded in a more authentic realism rather than a futuristic space-age. And it is played with a lovely, loving degree of truth by Donnelly and Henry as they come tentatively to see the world through each other’s eyes.

Donnelly, originating his third successive West End leading role after The Commitments and Memphis, is understatedly magnificent: a bloke who looks like Mr Ordinary, but turns out to be extraordinary in both voice and moves.  And Henry, in the more showy role of Lola, is similarly adept at showing the vulnerability beneath the bravura exterior.

They’re surrounded by a hard-working, resourceful ensemble, with nice work from Amy Lennox and Jamie Baughan as two factory workers with agendas of their own. Director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell marshals it all with smooth efficiency, and drives it with sexy, sassy class.

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Verdict
Broadway sends a British film back home as a hit musical that's as fun as it is frequently fabulous
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