Robert Tanitch reviews Kinky Boots at Adelphi Theatre, London WC2
The huge success of Billy Elliot as a musical has led to other people trying their luck with adapting popular British films about the industrial north.
But Kinky Boots arrives in the West End with the enormous advantage over The Full Monty and Made in Dagenham in that it has already wowed audiences in New York and picked up six Tony awards.
Kinky boots are women’s shoes in men’s sizes for transgender people. The book by Harvey Fierstein is based on a true story. You may have seen the BBC documentary on TV in 1999. You may have seen the film with Chiewetel Ejifor in 2005.
There really was a family shoe factory in Northampton facing bankruptcy and forced to sack workers. The young boss discovered there was a niche market for erotic footwear and decided to make thigh-high boots for drag queens
There was a time when theatre audiences only saw artists in drag in pantomimes at Christmas. The box-office success of Cage aux Folles (also written by Fierstein) and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert has changed all that.
The London cast is led by Killian Donnelly as the decent young factory owner and Matt Henry as the fearlessly flamboyant drag queen with whom he joins forces in business.
You may have already seen the extremely likeable and nicely understated Donnelly in The Commitments and Memphis. You may have already heard Henry in the BBC’s The Voice on TV.
Donnelly sings “Soul of a Man” and stops the show. Henry sings “Hold Me in Your Heart” and stops the show. Amy Lennox, as a factory worker in love with the boss, sings “The History of Wrong Guys” and also stops the show.
A raunchy sextet of drag queens has fun. The music and lyrics are by Cyndi Lauper and the songs include “Sex is in the Heel”, “Not My Father’s Son” and “Everybody Say Yeah”.
Jerry Mitchell’s high-heeled production and his choreography have plenty of feelgood verve. The audience exits from the theatre in high spirits. There’s no business like shoe business.
Images by Johan Persson