Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3
“The sex is in the heel” croons Matt Henry’s Lola in the new West End musical Kinky Boots,
one of our latest imports from Broadway, although based on a British film, set in England, and indeed inspired originally by a real fetish footwear factory in Northampton. These trans-Atlantic crossovers make for some brilliantly British characters, some Broadway-style dance numbers, but also some slightly weird accents along the way.
Henry is clearly the standout star of the show. His Lola (and Simon – if you hadn’t realised, Lola is a rather fabulous drag queen, worthy of RuPaul’s show) is a revelation by turns frightening, confident, movingly vulnerable, and often incredibly witty. Killian Donnolly, meanwhile, does well as the difficult straight-man part Charlie, although I found the incredibly twanged American accent whilst he was singing a little put on – saying this, my brother did point out the lyrics must have been originally written for American actors, so perhaps Donnolly was simply forced into it by the rhythm and rhyme.
His love interest Lauren (and I refuse to apologise for spoilers here; this is musical theatre after all, darlings, and we all know in musical-land, it’s virtually impossible for two people who start off together to end up together – unless of course they’re married) was played with great energy and gusto by Sophie Isaacs – who is actually the understudy, though you absolutely couldn’t tell from her performance. She is the typically awkward Brit; her solo number of The History of Wrong Guys was one of my highlights of the show, with some fab choreography delivered with a great sense of comedy and a touching message underneath it all.
Don, the factory worker who reacts the most aggressively to the arrival of Lola and her gang of six impeccably dressed ‘Angels’, was also played by an understudy on the night I visited, with Tim Prottey-Jones taking on the role with aplomb. The Angels themselves were perhaps the most impressive performers of the night, dancing their way through the big songs – which included running on conveyer belts – all in insanely high heels and extravagant costumes, massive smiles, and not a fault in sight. The two kids playing Young Charlie and Young Lola/Simon were adorable. George (Michael Hobbs), the wise chief factory worker with a bit of a soft spot for Lola’s way of life it seems, was great fun to watch, especially within the group numbers.
The songs themselves – perhaps the most important part of a musical – are seriously good fun. Cyndi Lauper has written some great tunes, two of which I’ve already mentioned, and I found I’m Not My Father’s Son, although very cliché musical theatre, to be surprisingly emotional. The ridiculous Everybody Say Yeah just before the interval, whilst saying incredibly little, is classic musical exuberance. These aren’t necessarily tunes I’ll be playing and replaying on my iPod, but a couple of them definitely stuck in my head after the show, and I enjoyed them all while they were going on.
Yet this production didn’t quite live up to my expectations – the movie (starring Chiwetel Ejiofor) is really fab, and actually the musical has gotten lots of five star reviews, and a few Tony Awards to boot. However, although I enjoyed myself, this wasn’t an evening I came out of amazed, or blown away, or particularly thoughtful. It was a good, fun evening, with some solid tunes and a fantastic performance from Henry. It’s not, however, one I’m desperate to go back and re-watch – and that’s probably my biggest test of the success of a musical. With Kinky Boots, I’m glad I saw it, but it’s not one I’ll be saving up my money to buy another ticket for as soon as possible.
Kinky Boots at the Adelphi Theatre: 3/5 stars