"I suspect Kinky Boots may have legs and not just the muscular ones that are encased in thigh-high, stiletto-heeled footwear that are specially designed for transvestite use." - Mark Shenton in The Stage.The reviews were not all as glowing as the above, and I can't deny I was apprehensive about a whole musical of music penned by Cyndi Lauper - as much as I love her. I'd heard a little of the cast recording from Broadway, and I wasn't blown away by what I heard...
"...at least the show has, in one sense, "come home" and is no longer lost in the translation of trans-Atlantic attempts at English regional dialects ... the show took a little while to get into its full stride but once the realisation dawned that "the sex is in the heel", it struts its stuff with terrific aplomb." - Edward Seckerson, The Arts Desk
"The great couturier Hardy Amies said that a gentleman could never look well-dressed in cheap shoes. Any self-respecting bloke today has to have good boots. And, in this glorious feel-good musical ... those boots are made for walking, talking, singing, flouncing and wearing well above the kneecap. Size isn't everything but thighs are." - Michael Coveney, WhatsOnStage
"You could make a case against the musical as a piece of preachy uplift about sexual tolerance. But it won me over through the quality of the lead performances, the verve of its staging and its conviction, in its fetishistic worship of thigh-high boots, that there's no business like shoe business." - Michael Billington, The Guardian
However, "our little gang" (Hils, Crog, John-John, Paul and I) trouped off to the glittering Art Deco surroundings of the Adelphi Theatre to see the London production on Wednesday. I am pleased to report that it was utterly fantabulosa!
It's an incongruous story - if loosely based on a true-life tale of British ingenuity - boy meets girl, boy inherits fusty old family shoe factory in trouble, boy meets drag queen, boy makes a decision to recover the factory's financial crisis by making outrageous "kinky boots" for men to wear, girl gets shitty and boy loses girl, drag queen gains the trust of the factory workers, boy makes a success of business and gets new girl...
This musical-based-upon-heartwarming-Brit-flick may not be to everyone's taste [for every world-beater in this genre like Billy Elliott, there are likely to be a few Made in Dagenhams; the latter just having closed early in the very same Adelphi Theatre; and apparently the faboo film Pride is up for a musical makeover soon], but in the hands of Mr Harvey Fierstein (who wrote the "book"), one thing is guaranteed - it certainly is CAMP!
It started shakily enough, with the back-story heavily emphasised in the Price & Son Theme and the unlikely ode to the type of boring brogue favoured by the company The Most Beautiful Thing, sung by his father to a young "Charlie". However, the seeds of the tale to come are set by the lonely presence of a young black boy (brilliantly) dancing around the margins of the stage in a pair of obviously adored red stilettos. It doesn't take long for it to become obvious - when the now-adult Charlie (Killian Donnelly) rescues a now-grown-up "Lola" (Matt Henry) from a mugging, and surfaces in the middle of her barn-storming stage act, The Land of Lola - that the two lead characters' paths were destined to cross, as the "penny drops" when Charlie eyes Lola's shoes and realises he could make better.
“Tell me I haven't inspired something burgundy!... Burgundy is the colour of hot water bottles”
Cue Charlie's epiphany, his return to Northampton with the new business plan, and the triumphal appearance of Lola and her Angels to support him with one of the show's most memorable numbers Sex is in the Heel - which I played on Wednesday.
The whole ensemble of players is remarkable, the choreography is marvellous - and one of the factory workers Lauren (a brilliant turn by Amy Lennox) with a crush on the boss gets her own moment to really shine with her show-stopper The History of Wrong Guys [here sung (hilariously) by a man: Richie Barella]:
Finding they have more in common than they could ever have thought - Charlie and Lola were both lonely boys unable to live up to too-high parental expectations - Mr Donnelly and Mr Henry were simply magnificent on the "torch duet" I’m Not My Father’s Son [this is the US tour version]:
Speaking of choreography - the closing number of the first act is simply breath-taking, with everybody on stage in a perfectly-synchronised romp across the factory floor and even on the production line rollers (which move around with the action) - Everybody Say Yeah had us almost leaping out of our seats!
Act 2, as is inevitable, brings on the "dramatic plot twists" - Lola's taunting of the factory "blokes" (What a Woman Wants), the open challenge by homophobic Northampton "yokel" Don to Lola to "man up" by boxing against him (not realising that he/she had been trained to box by his/her Dad, which made the In This Corner scene very enjoyable), the re-emergence and swift departure of Charlie's unsympathetic fiancée (complete with her architect's plans to turn the factory into luxury flats), and Charlie's stress-driven lashing-out at everybody around him on the eve of a crucial fashion show - all of which are tied up neatly by the end (of course).
Speaking of What a Woman Wants, here's the Broadway cast take on it:
Of course, both leads - Charle and Lola - get their own "big solo numbers" as they reconcile their own feelings, Charlie's being The Soul of a Man; Lola's is the bittersweet Hold Me in Your Heart [unfortunately the only visual is also of the Broadway cast, which in my opinion does not do this song the justice served to it by Mr Henry's incredible tonsils], made all the more heart-string-tugging when one realises that all her vocal histrionics are not being offered to a top-notch audience at the Palladium, but at the nursing home where his/her Dad now resides:
The finale takes place at the culmination of all the hard work and effort by Charlie and the factory workers - the Milan catwalk. Unfortunately, his stubborn alienation of his muse means the hapless lad staggers on the stage alone in his kinky boots; but (of course) the potential debacle is rescued at the eleventh hour by none other than Lola, her Angels, and all the workers (even Don) modelling the boots after all!
Here's a "live" version of the splendid closing number Raise You Up/Just Be, from some kind of parade in the USA. Don't let that put you off - it really was better than this on Wednesday:
If Mr Donnelly, Mr Henry and Miss Lennox are not up for some kind of award for this, I would be very surprised. It was certainly one of the most fun nights I have had without putting stillies on, and must rank among the best musicals on in London at the moment... [I only wish there were more videos out there, or even a West End cast recording CD, to prove it!]
Kinky Boots is a must-see!