Review: Kinky Boots, New Wolsey Theatre

An irresistible sense of joyous fun permeates all aspects of this regional premiere of Kinky Boots the Musical, at New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich and Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch

“Just put.  
One foot.
Onward and forward.”

It is 10 years now since Kinky Boots – the tale of what happens when Northampton shoemakers meet London drag – became an unexpected hit Broadway musical and about 3½ years since the wonderfully warm-hearted show ran successfully on the West End for…3½ years. So now is as good a time as any for its first UK revival and regional premiere with this co-production by Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre and Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch.

Tim Jackson’s reinterpretation does a considered job in reconceiving this musical on a smaller scale and as an actor-musician production too. In all honesty, it took a minute to adjust as the hustle and bustle of UK factory life, London nightclubs and Milan fashion shows is somewhat reduced. But the payoff is a greater intimacy that brings out the acuity of Cyndi Lauper’s lyrics and the emotional connections that form the bedrock of Harvey Fierstein’s book. 

On the one side, Matt Corner anchors the show as everyman Charlie, thrust into shoe factory-ownership on the death of his father and is appealingly good as he searches for ways to save the business. And on the other, it is in Keanu Adolphus Johnson’s hands that it soars as his Lola, in need of specially-cobbled footwear for her drag act, sparkles and shimmers and confronts and croons, tackling (not so) latent homophobia, parental relationships and personal fulfilment for all concerned.

Amanda Stoodley’s set design makes a virtue out of being economically flexible, Crystal Hantig’s choreography is essayed with skill by Lola’s Angels and Will Arundell’s onstage musical direction shows off all the (true) colours of Lauper’s brilliant score, from its rousing anthems to its heartfelt balladry. Aruhan Galieva is scene-stealingly good as comic foil Lauren but overall, there’s an irresistible sense of joyous fun from all aspects of this production.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Mike Kwasniak 
Kinky Boots is booking at New Wolsey Theatre until 24th September, and at Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch 28th September – 22nd October

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