Theatre Review: Kinky Boots // Adelphi Theatre

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After such a depressing year, it was only a matter of time before the lockdown-born YouTube channel The Shows Must Go On! aired a recording of this feel-good classic. Originally a 2005 film starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kinky Boots became a musical in 2013 with book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper. 

The premise is simple enough: the straight, white and socially-awkward Charlie reluctantly inherits his father’s struggling shoe factory, and has a business-saving epiphany after meeting drag queen Lola. He starts making feminine boots for the assigned-male-at-birth market. Inspirational high jinks ensue. 

The star of the show, of course, is Matt Henry as Lola. Sporting the same rich, expressive voice which carried him to the final of The Voice UK in 2013, Henry blends his vocals with an infectiously flamboyant – yet soulful and tender – personality, which makes five minutes with his Lola more fun than fifty hours of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

The rest of the cast was fun to watch, too. Killian Murphy takes the potentially bland role of Charlie and runs with it, his facial expressions alone providing some great comedic moments. Natalie McQueen, too, was a genuine delight as the outrageously uninhibited factory worker, Lauren. 

As for the musical numbers, they’re incredibly fun and entertaining, but mostly generic and often forgettable. Still, there are worse things a soundtrack can be. The party really gets started midway through Act 1 with ‘Land of Lola’, in which Lola and her “Angels” send us tumbling head over heels into a ruby-red fantasy world where gender stereotypes melt away faster than Rudy Giuliani’s hair dye. And even that’s less fun to watch than ‘Say Yeah’, a welcome burst of contagious joy that makes for an ideal Act 1 finale. The show sadly becomes merely satisfactory through much of Act 2, but redeems itself in its closing minutes with the appropriately crowd-pleasing ‘Raise You Up/Just Be’. 

If this show has a fatal flaw, it’s that while it celebrates queer people it doesn’t appear to have been made for them. Lauper and Fierstein clearly had the best intentions: he was one of the first ever openly gay celebrities, and she has been a passionate ally of the LGBTQ+ community throughout her career. In a way, this adds to my disappointment in Kinky Boots; overt or subconscious prejudice is frequently overcome with almost laughable ease. Lola ends up doing most of the hard work on this front, sending- however inadvertently- the troubling message that overcoming bigotry is almost exclusively the job of those who have to put up with it. Not to mention, as fabulous as Lola is, her role too often revolves around Charlie. I found myself rolling my eyes when she sang “Let me raise you up”, because by this point, raising Charlie up was becoming her only function.

In short, Kinky Boots isn’t as groundbreaking as it could have been. But don’t mistake my critiques for censure: it’s still a dynamic, witty and deeply heartfelt show that I’d recommend to just about anyone. The best reaction by far was that of one fan who wrote in the comments of December’s livestream: “Kinky Boots is the reason I was able to slowly realise I was non-binary and queer. I was crying when I saw the actors in heeled boots during the finale of the show a few years ago. Might be tearing up right now too. :’) So happy I get to see the show again.”

I’m happy I got to see it, too. 

Words by Emma Curzon.


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