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Kinky Boots (Adelphi Theatre)

The Broadway import with songs by Cyndi Lauper is a riotous take on the 2005 film

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Matt Henry, Killian Donnelly and the company of Kinky Boots
© Matt Crocket

The great couturier Hardy Amies said that a gentleman could never look well-dressed in cheap shoes. Any self-respecting bloke today has to have good boots. And, in this glorious feel-good musical by Harvey Fierstein (book) and Cyndi Lauper (music and lyrics), those boots are made for walking, talking, singing, flouncing and wearing well above the kneecap. Size isn't everything but thighs are.

Following the story of Tim Firth's screenplay for Julian Jarrold's 2005 movie starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as a drag queen who saves a failing shoe business in Northampton (where the local soccer team is known, not without good reason, as the Cobblers), Jerry Mitchell's stage version releases the grown-up tolerance theme - crossing sexual borders, loving your dad, finding yourself, etc - into feisty, traditional musical theatre areas of coming on strong, living the dream and saving the show.

The polar opposite "blood brothers" are Charlie Price (Killian Donnelly, breakthrough star of The Commitments and Memphis), who's inherited the sole factory which is losing its soul, and drag queen Lola (Matt Henry, absolutely fabulous, a runner up on BBC TV's The Voice), whom Charlie rescues in a street brawl and who recruits his fellow show girls to pay back the debt.

Crucially in Firth's original, but meaninglessly here, Charlie's from the Midlands and Lola - real name, Simon - is an Essex girl from Clacton-on-Sea. When I saw the show on Broadway, a sort of cod Anglophilia had seeped in until - inevitably - Mitchell's staging and choreography did a full monty on it just as he did in The Full Monty; here, you feel an English story has been swamped in reverse by Broadway.

If there's a weakness, it's this sense of transatlantic blandness allied to the easy moderation of the message. But, hey: the shop floor manager in a brown housecoat looks just like Jeremy Corbyn; there's a tremendous slow-mo boxing match to sort out the men from the men; Charlie's suburbanite girlfriend is seen off (with the development plans) by Amy Lennox's show-stealing Lauren; and any musical that has a knock-out number called "Sex is in the Heel" has my vote, even if it doesn't quite fulfill the seedy promise of another sex, shoe and fetishism show of 20 years ago, Michael White's Voyeurz (a disaster at the time).

It's interesting how British musicals with commercial pretensions have focused on communities in industrial decline - from Billy Elliot to Made in Dagenham - as if to galvanise the public into a sense of regeneration through theatre. It's a potent idea, but with Kinky Boots, it's hard to see how the niche market of drag queens in thigh-high leather and killer heels will redeem the masses. On the other hand, if the trend catches on, we'll all be questioning our sexuality and footwear before you can say Rocky Horror Show.

The two boys have great reunion songs with their dads, one, incongruously, in an old folks home. The Milan fashion show walk-down must have given Philip Green (of Topshop and Miss Selfridge) in the first night crowd - who also included the authors, Graham Norton, Sir Michael Codron and several preview-dodging critics - a few ideas. And Lauper's enjoyable, punchy songs include an ingenious tango item at the top of the second act and a superb hymn to the tubular sex appeal of the the new range of shoes for a new range of men.

Kinky Boots continues at the Adelphi Theatre. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

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