Review: Kinky Boots, New Wolsey Theatre

Next month marks ten years since Kinky Boots made its debut at Chicago’s Bank of America Theatre. To celebrate this milestone Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre and Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch have co-produced a regional revival of the award-winning musical, which is hugely entertaining from start to finish. 

Based on the 2005 film, which in turn was based on a true story, Kinky Boots tells the story of Charlie Price (Matt Corner), who inherits a struggling shoe factory after his father (Tim Parker) passes away unexpectedly. Just as he’s with the task of either saving the factory or firing a lot of long-term employees, Charlie meets drag queen Lola (Keanu Adolphus Johnson), who inspires him to move into a niche market of footwear and try to save the business. The pair build up a friendship and soon discover they have more in common than they first thought. 

It’s been more than three years since Kinky Boots closed in London’s West End and this revival is proof that there’s plenty more life left in this musical. With a book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by 80s icon Cyndi Lauper, this is a heartwarming and timely tale. There are touching moments of course, particularly during ‘Not My Father’s Son’ and Lola’s performance in a care home, but there’s plenty of light-hearted humour and feel-good moments to lift your spirits. The overarching theme of the show is acceptance and embracing those who are different – an important and particularly relevant message at this time. 

Tim Jackson’s direction results in an energetic production which particularly comes alive in the second act. Amanda Stoodley’s flexible design utilises the New Wolsey’s intimate stage for the most part, with pull-out staging helping to move the action out of the shoe factory when needed. There are, however, moments when the stage feels a little bare and the musicians playing at the back feel somewhat removed from the show. But the benefit of a scaled down set is that there are also times when the audience feels part of the show. Stoodley’s costumes on the other hand are incredibly colourful and eye-catching, and wouldn’t look out of place on a show like Ru Paul’s Drag Race. 

The highlight of the show has to be the incredible cast, a team of talented actor-musicians who breathe fresh air into Cyndi Lauper’s catchy soundtrack, a combination of ballads and uptempo tunes. The cast do a fine job of bringing Fierstein’s world to life, they look like they’re having a ball up on stage and they’re a joy to watch. Matt Corner gives an impressive performance as Charlie and sounds incredible during his numbers, notably ‘Soul Of A Man’. He also has great chemistry with Keanu Adolphus Johnson, who’s fantastically flamboyant at times, but shows his vulnerable side when it matters during the show’s more tender moments. Elsewhere Aruhan Galieva brings a dose of comedy to the stage with her portrayal of Lauren. She’s incredibly bubbly and humorous throughout, and her popular rendition of ‘History of Wrong Guys’ showcases her incredible voice. Meanwhile Lola’s Angels (played by Jay Anderson, Cavan Malone, George Lynam and Hiromi Toyooka) very nearly steal the show with their iconic performances, impressive dance moves (with choreography courtesy of Crystal Hantig) and bold outfits. 

While this musical might not be to everyone’s taste, with the seemingly endless stream of bad news in recent weeks, this show really is a tonic and injects a much-needed dose of joy into our lives. Kinky Boots is an energetic show with a fantastic cast, and the perfect pick-me-up this autumn. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Kinky Boots is booking at New Wolsey Theatre until 24 September, and at Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch from 28 September until 22 October. 

Photo credit: Mike Kwasniak

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