Interview with Kinky Boots the Musical Leading Men


The Tony Award-winning musical Kinky Boots opened in London's West End in August 2015 where it was met with fantastic reviews and nightly standing ovations. The musical, which features a book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper is based on the popular British film of the same name, and plays at the Adelphi Theatre as well as continuing a run on Broadway and around the world.

The musical recently took home the 2016 Olivier Award for Best New Musical and saw its two leading men Killian Donnelly and Matt Henry nominated for Best Actor in a Musical, which Henry took home on the night. Both are incredible performers and chemistry both onstage and offstage is part of the reason the show has been such a success. We recently stopped by the Adelphi Theatre to chat to them both ahead of a performance.

DO: Dom O'Hanlon
KD: Killian Donnelly
MH: Matt Henry

KD: I think it's the themes that it has – it's all about acceptance and be who you want to be, and that's literally what people are loving about the show. People can just relate to it...

MH: A lot of people come away feeling that they've learnt something from the show and that it's been a shared experience, and that they've managed to related with Charlie or Lola. I get tweets and messages from fans of the show saying "Oh my god, this show has really changed my life", "this show has allowed me to have an open conversation with my father about my sexuality", or "it has allowed me to accept my neighbour for who they are". The show has so many brilliant and poignant moments that really drive people, and people leave the show thinking wow, this is an amazing gift.

KD: There was a moment where my uncle came to see the show and he said I'll let you sort yourself afterwards, so I won't see you after the show. But after he watched the show he was like "I need to see you, because that song you did, 'Not My Father's Son', I was in tears". He wouldn't be a cryer but he was allowed to open up – he had just lost his father a few months ago and it just really connected with him. That's what's great about the show, that someone who wouldn't be into musicals or wouldn't be emotional really connects with the show and I think that's why it really works.

DOH: When you were rehearsing the show did you ever imagine the kind of audience reaction that you get each night?

MH: We have a standing ovation every night. I've never done a show like this that has this response at the end. You can feel the energy of people wanting to get up during that finale.

KD: Over here in the West End people are more reserved, they don't always give standing ovations, so when you get one you really feel like you've earned it. People are loving this show, and because it started in America and toured there, the West End is where its heart is and it's like it has come home. That's what they were really excited to see how it was received.

DOH: It has now been around 8 months since the show opened, how do you make sure you keep your performances fresh?

KD: I think it's to do with the cast – there are covers, there are swings and they all move around, someone can go on holiday so someone new comes in and can do their own thing with it. I could be working with Jamie Baughan who plays Don and I know how he plays Don and what he does with it, but then Tim Prottey-Jones could take over it for a week and he's completely different – and you hear the audience laugh at different bits. That's exciting and that's refreshing – so it's the cast really. We've got an associate director and choreographer who are always on it with notes and always encouraging. One of their favourite things to say is 'burn a show', he says 'just burn a show and see how you get on'. It could go one way, it could go terrible – I've been there with the terrible ones. I have to say this awkward 'hello' to the factory workers, it's a tiny thing and I've always just done a little awkward 'hello' and got a little laugh. I was saying to the resident director I'd love to do a different 'Hello' and he said 'burn a show – try it'. Well, I went on and did this big 'Hello' and just...dead. I'm never doing that again.

DOH: You both play such great roles that are extremely different - do you ever covet each other's roles and want a go at switching parts?

KD: I have to say no - because I've seen what he has to do. Corset, heels, sing loads of songs. I get two jumpers and get two songs and I get to kiss two girls – it's lovely. The moment for me is when I'm sitting there watching him sing "I'm Not My Father's Son", and I just get lost and could sit there watching him do the full thing, then I remember I have to do my bit.

MH: We have such a great friendship off-stage so I guess when we're on-stage that's what you see – that friendship that we share. He very much has my back, because there are times when I forget my lines and I need a good wingman to steer me back.

KD: We had a little karma moment the other day where you messed up a line and I screwed up my face, but then later on in another scene I got completely tongue-tied and I dunno what I was trying to say...I did this weird thing with my hand, forgetting I was on stage trying to get the order right.

MH: And I couldn't laugh, even though it was the most hilarious thing ever, because I had to go straight into "Not My Father's Son" – so I was trying to channel the emotion and hold it in.

DOH: Did you ever feel the pressure opening the show in London after the New York production had done so well? Did Jerry Mitchell give you freedom to put your own stamp on the roles?

MH: Oh Jerry wanted us to be completely our own. What Billy [Porter] and Stark [Sands] were doing was the Broadway version, and Jerry wanted to do our own version. He gave us room to play and discover – he gave me the opportunity to discover who my Lola was, and it's very different to Billy's Lola. Jerry was very much 'play and enjoy' and start to refine to find those bits that work.

KD: It was also really good because they had the experience of putting Kinky Boots in around the world so when you would as an actor come out with a choice, it was amazing that Jerry or the associate could come up to you and say "I see where you're going with this, but that's never worked", and you didn't have to wait to see what an audience would say. That was nice in a way with them having that experience.

DOH: And you were both nominated for Olivier Awards, Matt, you won and you're still being nominated for awards. How do you keep yourself grounded amid that success?

MH: It's being at work – you come back to work and it really grounds you because of what you have to do. It hasn't really sunk in about the Olivier, and now the Times Award, you sometimes just think oh – I'm up for something – but my main focus is coming in every day.

KD: That was the thing about the Olivier Awards – on the night we were taken away from each other but when we finally met up we were all hugs and straight away I was saying "do you want a drink?" and he just looked and me and said "no – there's a show tomorrow". I'm there holding champagne thinking oh, yeah of course – you're right!

DOH: What's the most challenging part about being in a show eight times a week?

KD: It's the voice. You stay at home, you steam, you get a good night's sleep because you have to do it once or twice the next day.

MH: I'm very strict with myself – I don't speak before 3pm. I think if you're doing a role like this you have to take it very seriously, don't speak until a certain point. Up until then it's just Whatsapp and texting...

KD: I'll ring him and just get no answer – everything okay?

DOH: If you got to design your own pair of Kinky Boots what would they be like?

MH: Oh my days – mine would be Back to the Future – those ones. They'd be amazing.

KD: Comfy! I know they're heels, but I'd make them comfy. The boots are made for us but it's such a hard shoe – now I'm used to it. Something soft, maybe some satin...? I never thought I'd be having this conversation!!!

MH: If you could capture clouds and make an insole from it...

KD: A Kinky Ugg!

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