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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
KINKY BOOTS
at Adelphi Theatre

CANDY-COATED SOLE
By SAM MARLOWE

  Ph: Matt Crocket

Sometimes fabulous accessories just aren’t quite enough to make a mismatched outfit work – and although this Broadway musical by the playwright Harvey Fierstein and 1980s popstrel Cyndi Lauper is highly polished and hot to trot, it stumbles as often as it swaggers. Based on the 2005 Britflick of the same name, which was itself very loosely inspired by a real-life story of a struggling family shoe manufacturing business, it’s a curious, garish ensemble of clichés, sentimentality and old-fashioned showbiz pizazz. No one could sensibly expect it to be any more heavyweight than a marabou boa. Despite some winning performances and Lauper’s pleasantly perky songs, Fierstein’s script and Jerry Mitchell’s production are so blatantly phoney that however insistently the show begs for your affection, it’s hard to lose your heart to it.

Part of the problem is cultural. The action is, for the most part, set in the East Midlands town of Northampton, but for some reason Fierstein has his characters speaking in some sort of cod Dickensian English. They use archaic expressions such as “lest” and “I'll wager,” and their delivery is chipper, baldly presentational and devoid of the slightest intimation of spontaneity. This doesn’t matter too much in the midst of the musical’s campest, glitziest excesses, but when it takes a swerve into soul-searching territory, it’s less moving than mawkish, to the point where it becomes positively irksome.

There is, however, some fun to be had along the way. At the show’s sticky soft centre is an odd-couple relationship between Charlie Price (Killian Donnelly), the young heir to his dad’s failing factory, and Lola (Matt Henry), a glittering, Amazonian drag queen and one-time boxing champ. Lola loves high heels, but struggles to find any sturdy enough to go the distance – and it occurs to the pair that he and his leggy cabaret co-stars could represent a whole new niche market for Charlie’s beleaguered business. Charlie duly gets his staff to start production on a new line of extravagant boots for boys who dress like girls – a process that climaxes in an all-stomping catwalk show at a Milan footwear expo.

Like The Rocky Horror Show, not to mention the infinitely superior La Cage Aux Folles, which also has a book by Fierstein, Kinky Boots offers the feel-good, if well-worn, take-home message that being yourself, and accepting others, is the path to true happiness. In the course of learning this lesson – which at times is taught in tones that are far too preachy and shouty for enjoyment – Donnelly’s likable if somewhat bland Charlie sheds his pretentious, materialistic girlfriend and falls for Lauren, a sparky assembly-line worker. Amy Lennox is irresistible in that role – quirky, sexy, gloriously funny – so much so that she effortlessly rivals Henry for delivering the production’s most memorable performance. His blend of sass and vulnerability is winning, even when he’s forced to wallow in self-pity as he remembers his unhappy childhood with a disapproving, spirit-crushing dad. A boxing match in which Lola faces down a bigoted factory hand feels like slightly superfluous narrative cul-de-sac. And Henry is less persuasive when he’s in a suit rather than a frock and going by Lola's birth name of Simon. But otherwise he’s engaging enough to keep us interested, and the character’s sharp tongue just about licks the hokey material into shape.

The real star of the show, though, is Mitchell’s choreography, which is packed with pyrotechnic athleticism and dazzling, diva-ish flamboyance. Unless you’ve led an extraordinarily sheltered existence, you won’t detect anything remotely edgy or substantial about Kinky Boots, but if you have a sweet tooth and you’re looking for an uncomplicated good time, you could do worse than to dig out your stilettos and go.

 


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