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Prepare to fall head over heels with 5 star Kinky Boots

Stars of Kinky Boots - Killian Donnelly and Matt Henry
Kinky Boots stars Killian Donnelly and Matt Henry

If you only want to read one line and nothing else about the London production of Kinky Boots, here it is – a remark immediately after curtain call from several people (separately) in attendance: “I just love Killian Donnelly.

If I wasn’t already aware that something special had arrived in the West End, this production clearly already has an established fan base. Some ladies were dressed in the official merchandise T-shirts with the hashtag #SexIsInTheHeel at the back. Other T-shirts have a large red ‘K’ covering much of the front (which made for a rather disturbing selfie for one group of three women), and the lady sat immediately to my right in the auditorium had enthusiastically donned a pair of red shoes to the theatre. My point of reference to that was the 1948 motion picture ‘The Red Shoes’; by the end of the evening – no, before the interval even – I was certain I will forever associate bright red footwear with this highly bold and celebratory musical.

There are some huge numbers in the show. The finales of both acts are equally energetic and enjoyable, leaving me exhilarated and thrilled – more than a few musical theatre anthems of this type are exhausting to watch, so I was positively surprised to be pleasantly refreshed. ‘Soul of a Man’ (I’m glad I looked that up: what with shoes and boots galore, I thought it was ‘Sole of a Man’!) has Charlie Price (Killian Donnelly) belting out lyrics not so much lifting the roof of the Adelphi Theatre as coming close to incinerating it. Donnelly sings the hell out of this number (it’s very nearly as commanding as ‘Memphis Lives In Me’ from his previous acclaimed role in Memphis the Musical), as he does with an earlier number, ‘Step One’. As his many followers and fans will already know, he is so intensely engrossing to watch on the West End stage that here, one could be easily forgiven for truly believing he really is the executive chairman of a shoe factory in Northampton.

The songs by Cyndi Lauper sometimes help drive the story, yet sometimes support an extended and impressive song and dance, allowing audiences to sit back and enjoy the ride. It takes a while to go into overdrive, though, which is no bad thing – the narrative builds and builds, with the pressures on the Price & Son factory, the wider economic situation and Charlie Price’s personal life explored. By the time Lola (Matt Henry) and finally the Angels take to the stage, it is all the more spectacular, and a welcome relief.

It is true that the plot relies on a triumph-over-adversity formula beloved of certain productions set in Britain, of which Billy Elliot the Musical and The Full Monty are two examples. It is also true that Lola is a very stereotypical drag queen – a diva who is used to having things ‘her’ own way, and woe betide anyone who dares to challenge. But it is also true that there is something resolutely British about seeing the underdog coming through and making it out on top. Further, Lola’s pithy putdowns are a hit with the audience, as is her strength of character. The strong cast and largely upbeat score more than overshadow the slightly preachy undertones in the second act.

Aside from the flawless performances from the two leads, I rather enjoyed ‘The History of Wrong Guys’, a song from Lauren (a hugely likeable Amy Lennox), an employee at Price & Son. The song also served as a soliloquy – unusual but wonderful: audiences at modern shows are used to being effectively ignored all evening (which may partly explain all this mobile phone activity that many patrons have complained about). But not all the music consists of pumped up party anthems. A reflective number, ‘Not My Father’s Son’, has Charlie and Lola reach an understanding that neither of them turned out the way their old men wanted. Not even “the strength of Sparta / And the patience of Job” would have sufficed. Whether it is because their fathers had unrealistic expectations or whether they simply had rebellious streaks (or perhaps both) is left for the audience to decide.

Kinky Boots provides an uplift that only the humour, love, pathos and togetherness of an entertaining musical can provide – with food for thought too: “Just be / With dignity / Celebrate your life triumphantly.” Here’s to the Angels (Jeremy Batt, Arun Blair-Mangat, Marcus Collins, Luke Jackson, Adam Lake, and Javier Santos) for making dancing, backflips, cartwheels, high-kicks and even the splits whilst wearing “two-and-a-half feet of irresistible tubular sex” look like a stroll in the park. Of course the ending is slightly improbable: it’s a musical! But girls (and boys, “and those who have yet to make up their minds”) just wanna have fun. And what fun we had indeed. A standing ovation well deserved. A show with drive, passion and sole [sic]: go see, and prepare to fall head over heels.

5 Star Rating

 

Review by Chris Omaweng

Kinky Boots is Broadway’s huge-hearted, high heeled hit and it’s coming to London! With songs by Grammy and Tony award-winning pop icon Cyndi Lauper, this joyous musical celebration is about the friendship we discover, and the belief that you can change the world when you change your mind.

With direction and choreography by two time Tony award winner Jerry Mitchell and a book by Broadway legend and four time Tony award winner Harvey Fierstein (La Cage Aux Folles), Kinky Boots is the winner of 6 Broadway Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Choreography.

Take a step in the right direction and discover that sometimes the best way to fit in is to stand out…
Inspired by true events, Kinky Boots takes you from a gentlemen’s shoe factory in Northampton to the glamourous catwalks of Milan. Charlie Price is struggling to live up to his father’s expectations and continue the family business of Price & Sons . With the factory’s future hanging in the balance, help arrives in the unlikely but spectacular form of Lola, a fabulous performer in need of some sturdy new stilettos.

Cast announced for Kinky Boots

Killian Donnelly will not be performing on the following dates: 14-16 December 2015
Matt Henry will not be performing on the following dates: 23-28 November 2015

Kinky Boots
Adelphi Theatre
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Wednesday and Saturday 2.30pm

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