Review: Kinky Boots

Review: Kinky Boots

On the West End, a show entering its second year can be put through testing times. This is often the time when a show either enjoys its success and bows out gracefully, or dwindles into nothingness as it is forgotten among the weeds. Of course, all productions are hoping for the magical third option, one that few shows on the West End manage to achieve – a much longer and illustrious career spanning decades. Kinky Boots is riding high in 2016 off the back of seven Olivier Award nominations and three wins (Best Costume Design, Best Actor in a Musical and Best New Musical) – in theory this should be enough to see it through the deciding second year. But the formula for West End success is rarely so simple, as a return to the Adelphi Theatre on a Tuesday evening has proven.

A theatre that upgrades ticket holders to better seats hasn’t sold enough that evening, fact. So an upgrade from the Upper Circle to the Dress speaks volumes – yes it is a Tuesday and yes there are a number of understudies on, but that shouldn’t detract from people wanting to see this sequinned, sparkly spectacle of a production. Has Kinky Boots lost its lustre, left to tarnish and rust after shining so brilliantly in the beginning? The opening sequences indicate exactly that – a half-hearted drudgery of a cast going through their paces with no injection of energy, pace or passion. Even understudy Charlie (Michael Vinsen) comes out flat and forlorn; a supposedly revitalised performer grabbing his chance to play the starring role stumbling out the starting blocks.

It takes seasoned performer Matt Henry (Olivier award winner, Best Actor In a Musical) as feisty drag queen Lola to kick Kinky Boots back into high gear. Ultimately this musical works best when allowed to go the whole hog, camp as Christmas and twice as fabulous. Support by his army of Angels, Henry stomps around the stage in six-inch heels, looking every inch a West End star. Upbeat numbers like ‘Sex Is In The Heel’ are overflowing with sass, sex and a diva in their prime; contrasting ballads of heart-wrenching emotion such as ‘Hold Me In Your Heart’ showcase Henry’s vocal tone, range and sense of pathos. This hairy Mary is 5’ 9” of solid gold talent, strutting around in 6” heels of costume perfection by Gregg Barnes.

Once Lola has appeared on the scene and turned the shoemakers’ world upside down, the entire cast galvanises. Charlie in particular finds his confidence and whilst his voice finds itself wanting when standing up to Lola’s silky offering, he wins the audience to his side with honesty and truth. Charlie appeals to the majority of the young professionals, unsure as to their career choice and torn between following their dreams and keeping their feet grounded and their stomachs from rumbling.

There are still some moments of unsteadiness, not unlike Charlie’s attempt to teeter down the runway in his creations during the final scene, but down to earth characters like Lauren (Elena Skye) are on hand to knock some sense and stability back into the production. The juxtaposition of Lauren’s level-headedness offsets the head in the clouds thinking of Lola – a powerful comedy pairing. ‘The History of Wrong Guys’ is a particular highlight, where Lauren puts to words the problems of every single person in the audience when it comes to falling for the wrong one.

Will Kinky Boots survive the cursed second year in such a prolific location? Difficult to say – it has glitz and glam (thanks in the main to Barnes’ overtly stylish costumes and David Rockwell’s bold and beautiful set); it has Harvey Fierstein’s story that tugs at the heartstrings and champions a sense of acceptance for everyone in society; it even has the catchy melodies of song-writing legend Cyndi Lauper to carry it forward. Whether all this is enough, only time will tell. If nothing else though, having now seen Kinky Boots for the second time, I marched out of that theatre believing myself to be as fabulous as Lola and the Angels. It instils self-confidence, it praises the alternative and it isn’t afraid to be all it can be.

Kinky Boots is currently playing at the Adelphi Theatre, booking until 6 May 2017 – follow the link to book tickets

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