Theatre review: Kinky Boots at the Adelphi

The most beautiful thing in the world… is a shoe.

Or at least, that’s what the opening number of Kinky Boots tells us, and I find it difficult to disagree after seeing some of the beautiful boots in the London production, currently on at the Adelphi Theatre.

Telling the story of a young man who takes on his late father’s shoe factory, the drag queen he encounters, and the plan they come up with to save the factory by manufacturing a line of shoes for drag queens, Kinky Boots is fun, fabulous and feel-good, and I say that having seen it from the nosebleed seats at the Adelphi, so it must be glorious close up.

The show features Matt Henry as Lola and Killian Donnelly as Charlie. Henry’s role is louder and more in your face, but he brings a depth to Lola that makes you connect with her on a number of levels and he’s able to make her quieter moments just as addictive to watch as her louder numbers. Not My Father’s Son and Hold Me In Your Heart are both beautiful ballads, full of heart, and Henry sings the heck out of them.

As the more staid Charlie, it would be easy for Donnelly to blend into the background and to let Henry’s Lola steal the show. But Donnelly’s likeability, and his voice, are endearing and powerful and your eyes are drawn to him as much as to Henry. The supporting cast all build out a world that you fully believe in and there’s not a weak link among them, from the factory workers to Lola’s rather amazing Angels, who have legs I am in awe of.

Of course, it’s the music that is the real star of the show (brought off the page brilliantly by the cast). Cindy Lauper’s songs are phenomenal, and ran the gamut from 1980s pop (The History of Wrong Guys) to heartbreaking quieter numbers (Not My Father’s Son) to Whitney Hosuton style belters (Hold Me In Your Heart) to full on Broadway ensembles (Raise You Up/Just Be). The songs are moulded to each character perfectly, and the big numbers are just so full of joy and bring a smile to your face (and make you tap your feet and clap your hands and shimmy your shoulders).

Quietly backing up the music and the talented cast is a set design that is super clever, and that I just have to mention. Working most of the time with a cube structure, the cast use it alternately as the central space of the factory, Lola’s performance space, and, ingeniously (with the use of the one of the Angels and their fabulous legs), as a boxing ring.

Kinky Boots‘ magic lies in the way it seems to be an in-your-face show with dazzling costumes, brilliant songs, and fantastic choreography, which would be enough. But it’s also a show about human connection, about taking people for what they are, and about friendship. It draws you in with its sparkles and colours (and shoes), and before you know it it’s got you by the heart. The most beautiful thing in the world, the show teaches you, is love. And the shoes are pretty great too.

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