Kinky Boots - London

Cyndi Lauper & Harvey Fierstein's Tony-winning musical crosses the pond!

London's Kinky Boots Star Matt Henry on Finding His Inner Lola, Footwear Advice & Thoughts on Hamilton

Matt Henry has understudied across a range of West End hits, from The Lion King to Avenue Q, and was a finalist on popular British reality TV show The Voice. But only now as the cross-dressing Lola (a.k.a. Simon) in the U.K. premiere at the Adelphi Theatre of Kinky Boots has the Englishman claimed a leading role as his own. The genial performer took time to talk about surviving the holidays, sporting six-inch heels and his ongoing bromance with co-star Killian Donnelly.

It’s a new year, which must be doubly welcome for you after the manic holiday schedules of these big shows, both here and in New York.
We had nine shows last week and were recording the cast album as well, so it was pretty hectic. By the time I got to Saturday, I almost wanted to burst into tears and on Sunday I was comatose!

At least you’re fully settled into the show by now.
Yes and it feels as fresh and as new and as challenging as it did during previews.

Some things must be more second nature, like the footwear.
Those six-inch heels and the super-speedy costume changes! All that has got easier but you can never take it for granted. Some days, your body goes, “No!” Lola for me is a daily challenge because he’s a guy and I’m a guy but I’m also playing an effeminate woman at times, so you’ve got to stay with the character at every turn.

How do you keep up your energy?
This is a mammoth role and I knew that if I got it, I was going to have to be a nun. I don’t go out, and I train Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays and do Pilates every Monday.I’m just a machine now. But you have to! If you’re corseted and wearing heels, you can so easily get injured. I need to look after myself.

Were you aware of this musical before you were offered this role?
My agent called and said there’s a show called Kinky Boots, and I said, “Stop right there, I’ve seen the film.” He said, “Well, now they’ve made a show: do you want to go up for it?” And I thought, “What have I got to lose?” So there I was on a plane to New York to see Billy Porter and Andy Kelso—jetlagged but blown away not just by the sentiment of the story but the whole experience.

Was it tricky preparing for London with vivid memories of Billy Porter’s performance?
I couldn’t copy what Billy was because that was his own interpretation, whereas I’m offering my Lola—or should I say my Simon from Clacton-on-Sea. I had to find out what Lola means to me, and it took seven weeks within the rehearsal process to try and find her: seven weeks waiting for the heels to come!

What about the show's message of self-empowerment resonates for you?
I got married in 2012 and with that came a realization that you’re no longer a child and that everything matters now. No one’s opinion is more important than your partner’s and at the same time, you’ve got to be yourself—be who you want to be.

Tell me about working with Killian Donnelly, who plays Charlie Price.
I didn’t know Killian until the first press call, and as soon as we met we were like giggly schoolgirls—it was so lovely. What you see onstage is our friendship, and it’s as if our friendship is developing just as the relationship develops on stage. Killian really is a wonderful person—so honest and open. I’d trust him with my life.

I gather you knew the Adelphi Theatre already but from a different vantage point.
Yes, when I was 18—that’s to say half a lifetime ago—I was selling ice cream at the Adelphi front of house. I spent a year at the time watching Ruthie Henshall in Chicago and now I’m on that same stage.

That’s an inspirational story: have you shared it with the front of house staff at the Adelphi now?
I’ve said to them, “Look guys, it takes a while but it can happen!” It’s taken me some time to get to this positiona lot of tears and sweat.

On a practical note, has playing this role made you more aware of women and their footwear?
Oh my God, I’m forever in conversation with my girlfriends about the latest fashions. They want to know what shoes they should be wearing and are these nice heels or whatever. I always tell them, if it’s a new pair of Christian Louboutin, you’ve got to rehearse! Think of it as a performance.

How has this show affected your own footwear?
Ha! Well, when I’m in flat shoes now, it’s trainers [sneakers], and I mean really good trainers, and I’ve had insoles made to help me with my arch. It’s not that I’ve said goodbye to Doc Martens, but I used to live in them and don’t do that anymore.

You’re contracted to Kinky Boots for a year but have you begun thinking about what’s next?
The H-musical [as in Hamilton], possibly? It’s funny: I was at the Les Miz 30th-anniversary party and someone there was saying to me that I needed to be looking at Hamilton and that was the next show for me. But I’m not actually very good at taking other things on while I’m in something. I still love being Lola and just love what I’m doing.

This has been a game-changer for you, hasn’t it?
Most definitely! I’m originating a role for the first time for myself in the West End. I mean, I’m very grateful to [TV show] The Voice for giving me the opportunity to be seen by many more people, but this is such a big opportunity. In theater terms, I’ve always been the bridesmaid but never the bride. And now here I am the bride!