KINKY BOOTS – West End

In London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Reviews by Johnny FoxLeave a Comment

Adelphi Theatre, London

Sometimes, however much you like the genre, a musical fails to capture your imagination or engage you in the way it should. So maybe it’s my fault that Kinky Boots comes over as trite, derivative, musically juvenile, borderline offensive in its camp stereotyping, and wholly unworthy of a West End stage. It must be me, because there were several women in the audience on their sixth or seventh visit, and they can’t all be wrong. Can they?

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Let’s start with the book. It’s a musical set in a factory so, good example: The Pajama Game, bad example: Made in Dagenham. I thought the film foundered on the unlikely premise that a Northampton shoe manufacturer would escape bankruptcy by making only glittery stiletto boots for transvestites. The musical’s narrative works even less well. Although it played fast and loose with historical fact, at least Made in Dagenham’s industrial crisis was realistic. And this book was written by Harvey Fierstein, who also scripted La Cage aux Folles. Although thirty years earlier, maybe he’s lost the technique.

Now the characters. It’s a musical which revolves round straight attitudes to drag queens so, good example: La Cage aux Folles, better example: Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Admittedly popular lead Matt Henry was on holiday the night I saw it, but I wouldn’t name or blame his understudy because it’s in the writing and direction that the principal drag queen comes over as such a tediously predictable, shallow cartoon personality forever snapping his fingers and generating yet another ‘follow your dream, babes’ platitude. The other six have no individuality or delineation other than their costumes. Contrast this with the hilariously self-mocking but resolutely three-dimensional Albin and Jacob in Cage aux Folles, or Felicia’s complex personal journey in Priscilla.

And the music. La Cage aux Folles contains a distillation of Jerry Herman at the peak of his long fine career and both the defiant anthems and the tender ballads are resonant and memorable, Priscilla is a compilation of classic numbers from the sixties and seventies, from ‘Macarthur’ Park to ‘Go West’, Kinky Boots has Cyndi Lauper. Lauper is a much-garlanded recording artist and composer, but for me she’s forever stuck with ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ and nothing in the Kinky Boots score convinced me it deserved the 2013 best original score Tony for the Broadway production where I still think Tim Minchin was robbed because Matilda should have won hands down.

There’s a recent tendency for West End productions to try to capitalise on the jukebox musical market which attracts customers seeking an undemanding familiarity and glitzy production values but without much dramatic substance or subtlety.  Kinky Boots plays absolutely to this gallery.

I think we may be developing a new genre of Hen Night Theatre.  How depressing.

 

 

 

 

 

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Johnny Fox
‘Johnny Fox’ studied Theatre at Lancaster University and Journalism at City before realising there was no money in either profession and concentrating instead on interior design for investment banks in Singapore, New York and Moscow. Back home, he wrote mostly about theatre, mostly in London, for arts and events websites including Londonist and The Pink Paper. He blogged independently at www.johnnyfox.london. He passed away, after a long battle with cancer, in May 2020.

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Johnny Fox
‘Johnny Fox’ studied Theatre at Lancaster University and Journalism at City before realising there was no money in either profession and concentrating instead on interior design for investment banks in Singapore, New York and Moscow. Back home, he wrote mostly about theatre, mostly in London, for arts and events websites including Londonist and The Pink Paper. He blogged independently at www.johnnyfox.london. He passed away, after a long battle with cancer, in May 2020.

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