Getting Kinky With It: Tony Award-winning ‘Kinky Boots’ steps into Philly

Getting Kinky With It: Tony Award-winning ‘Kinky Boots’ steps into Philly

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The Tony Award-winning smash “Kinky Boots” is runway-walking into town for its Philadelphia premiere April 28-May 10 at the Forrest Theatre.

 

Based on the film of the same name, the Broadway production is written by Tony Award-winner Harvey Fierstein and features a score written by singer and pop icon Cyndi Lauper. The story follows Charlie Price, who has reluctantly inherited his father’s shoe factory Northampton, which is on the verge of going under. He meets Lola, a drag performer, on a chance encounter in London. The two strike up an unlikely friendship when she inspires him to take his failing shoe business in a bold and radical direction, making sturdy, high-quality kinky boots for drag performers.

Kyle Taylor Parker plays the role of Lola on the touring production of “Kinky Boots” after starting out as an understudy and one of Lola’s angels in the original Broadway production.

Parker said he was new to the titular footwear before getting cast in the show, but he was a quick study.

“I had never done drag before ‘Kinky Boots,’” he said. “Starting off as an angel, the angels had to do all their own makeup. That is not my ministry. In the end, I grew up and learned my way around a makeup brush and I worked with all of my girlfriends to learn how to walk and dance in heels. I have so much respect for anyone who can do it.”

Parker took over the role of Lola from Billy Porter, who won a Tony Award for portraying Lola on Broadway. Parker said he isn’t concerned about living up to the expectations of following in the footsteps of a Tony winner.

“I always answer that question with a story I got from Chita Rivera,” Parker said when asked if he had any trepidation about playing Lola after Porter. “When she moved into the role of ‘Sweet Charity’ on tour, someone asked her, ‘Wow, these are really big shoes to step into. How do you feel about that?’ And she said, ‘Eh, I think I’ll just bring my own shoes.’ That is what I’ve done every single day here. There was maybe a second of doubt or fear but, once I decided to just be myself, everything started to fall into place.”

Things have been falling into place for “Kinky Boots” since it hit Broadway as well. While it wasn’t a breakout critical success when it debuted, the show quickly caught on with audiences and went on to get 13 Tony Award nominations and beat out more critically acclaimed productions to take home six awards.

Parker said the heartfelt performances of the cast have been the key to the show’s success.

“You can’t argue with heart and the audiences come to see the show,” he said. “They are moved by every single person on the stage. You see real people accomplish something incredible when they work together. That has really been the thing that had kept the show running. There are people in the Broadway audiences who have seen our show 30 times. So there’s got to be something that keeps people coming back.”

Parker said that much of the show’s appeal comes from audiences connecting with the character of Lola.

“It is an honor to portray Lola on stage because she represents so much to so many people,” he said. “She’s a superhero. She overcomes feeling of rejection and doubt. She goes from being an outsider to an insider in her own right. That is inspirational. The best part is getting off stage and seeing a black gay man say, ‘Thank you for doing that show. You told my story.’ As actors, sometimes you have the opportunity to speak for people who do not have a voice as public as the show allows you to. So it’s just an honor.”

Lola and Charlie couldn’t be more different when audiences first meet them, but as the story unfolds we find out they have more in common than most would suspect: They both have deep unresolved issues with their fathers that they have to overcome to find happiness.  

“The desire to fill your father’s shoes and walk in his shadow lives in all of us,” Parker said. “They both rise to the challenge of their lives to be their own man, to become a man on their own terms. And they end up becoming not just friends, but brothers in a way.”

Lola and Charlie also have a similar relationship with the character of Don, a factory worker that initially doesn’t respect either of them.

“What’s magical about what Lola thinks of Don is that he is not as enlightened, but Lola has the special ‘love you anyway’ type of gene,” Parker said. “Don is kind of a bully but the end of it is acceptance. By the end I do think they have the same idea: Accept somebody for who they are.”

When stories set in England hit the U.S., they’ve usually undergone some changes to Americanize the story. But Parker said that isn’t the case with the stage version of “Kinky Boots.”

“The Broadway production does a really good job of honoring the film. The story is the same and a few of the jokes from the film are in the musical, but it turns the movie up a million notches. There is so much energy, heart and love. By the end, it’s a big party. It turns up the volume on all the good stuff in the movie. When I read the script, I said that this is going to be a huge hit. I knew it right away. I do think as Americans we have a fascination with British culture. It makes it instantly cool to me.”

The show has become cool with mainstream America as well. Parker said that “Kinky Boots” is winning over skeptical and sometimes-reluctant theatergoers all over the country.

“We’ve got a lot of mainstream attention,” he said. “There are people coming from all over. In the first two months on Broadway it was Broadway audiences, but now word of mouth has spread all over the country. When you see men who have been dragged to the theater by their wives to see the show, and when everyone comes out in their kinky boots you see these men clap and jump for joy rooting for Don, who is wearing the kinky boots, that is the payoff. Oprah came and saw the show on Broadway and she tweeted about it. She loved it.”

Another celebrity Parker has had the chance to interact with as part of “Kinky Boots” is Grammy-winner Lauper, who wrote the score for the show. He said Lauper worked closely with the performers on the show.

“She was very hands-on, watching us and giving us notes,” he said. “One day I had a vocal session with her and we talked about the meaning of all the songs and why she wrote them. She’s put so much into the show and loves and cares about it so much.”  

Broadway Philadelphia presents “Kinky Boots,” April 28-May 10 at Forrest Theatre, 1111 Walnut St. For more information or tickets, call 215-923-1515 or visit www.kinkybootsthemusical.com.


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