Kinky Boots: A New Musical Is Born

Kinky Boots: A New Musical Is Born

They say you can tell a lot about a person from looking at their shoes.

Footwear plays a key role in the new musical Kinky Boots, but from the title alone you might not know that it is a big-hearted Broadway extravaganza with a universal message of tolerance. Still, it’s no surprise that the show, which begins previews at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on March 3, has already been declared “This season’s most fabulous new musical!” by Entertainment WeeklyKinky Boots boasts an impeccable Broadway pedigree: Jerry Mitchell, multiple Tony Award® nominee and winner of the 2005 Best Choreography Tony for La Cage aux Folles, is the director and choreographer, while actor, playwright, librettist and four-time Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein has adapted this incredible true story for the stage. Joining them in her Broadway debut as composer is pop legend Cyndi Lauper, the Grammy® and Emmy® Award winner whose record sales have exceeded 50 million worldwide.
When producer Daryl Roth first saw Kinky Boots at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006, she felt the heart and soul of the movie dealt with themes she cared deeply about, and was immediately excited about the film’s musical potential. Set in Northampton, a manufacturing town in the English Midlands, the movie is about Charlie Price, a young shoe factory owner who, when faced with the possibility of closing the family business, makes the inspired decision to find an untapped niche-market instead. With the help of Lola, a London-based entertainer who knows all about the power of kinky boots, Charlie finds a fresh concept: sturdy but flashy footwear for drag queens. Before the new business can succeed, both Charlie and Lola must come to terms with their own identities and find the strength to follow their passions regardless of the risks learning that, “You change the world when you change your mind.”

Within a year of seeing Kinky Boots, Roth had secured the rights to adapt the film, partnered with producer Hal Luftig, and hired Broadway heavyweights Jerry Mitchell and Harvey Fierstein to transform it into a musical. Mitchell and Fierstein already had a working relationship, which included collaborations on the Tony-winning productions of La Cage aux Folles in 2005 and the hit 2002 musicalHairspray. “I knew Harvey would be just right for the material and I trust him as a friend,” says Mitchell. With an early draft of the script in hand, the team tapped Cyndi Lauper, whom they felt was the ideal choice to create the score. “Not only does she have the ability to write an incredibly wonderful melody with hooks, but her lyrics are very clear and she has a real relationship with these characters – working class people, underdogs,” says Mitchell. “I just think she has the perfect voice for this show.”

“Harvey streamlined the characters,” Mitchell continues, “and made it about these two complete polar opposites, Lola and Charlie, coming together and understanding that they both have the same problem, which is they never were a success in their fathers’ eyes and they had to become men on their own terms.” Charlie is the fifth generation to inherit the shoe factory, but he has other ambitions. Citing his own family’s business in his hometown of Paw Paw, Michigan, Mitchell notes that he can relate to Charlie’s predicament. “I grew up in a local bar-restaurant business that was my grandparents’ and then my parents’. It was quite profitable but, ultimately, neither my two siblings nor I wanted to go into that line of work, and so my parents finally sold it,” he explains. “But in the show, Charlie realizes that his father was also there for all the factory workers who gave their lifeblood to making shoes, and so he feels a responsibility to these people. So he comes to terms with his father’s legacy and moves forward. And the same is true for Lola: in her case her father never accepted her as a cross-dressing man.”

In order to get a sense of the actual place and the people behind this true story, Jerry Mitchell crossed the pond to see the town of Northampton for himself. “At one point it was the capital of shoemaking in England; there were hundreds of shoe factories there because it was on the river and near the cattle farms where they got their leather. I got to talk to some of the people involved in the factory, and some of the people who were in the film,” says the director. For the story’s glamorous ending, at a fashion show in Italy, Mitchell drew from his own work experience: not only has he choreographed for a bevy of beauties in La Cage, for the past twenty years he has also presented “Broadway Bares,” the stunning annual burlesque fundraiser for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS in New York. “What better place to have a finale of a musical than on a catwalk in Milan?” he says, laughing.

Several others on the Kinky Boots creative team bring a wealth of Broadway experience to Mitchell’s production, including scenic designer David Rockwell (Catch Me If You Can, Hairspray, Legally Blonde The Musical) and costume designer Gregg Barnes, last year’s Tony Award winner for Follies. Musical supervision, arrangements and orchestrations are by Tony and Grammy Award-winner Stephen Oremus (The Book of Mormon; Wicked).

The stellar cast includes Tony Award nominee Stark Sands (American Idiot) as Charlie, Billy Porter (the recent Off-Broadway revival of Angels in America) as Lola and Annaleigh Ashford (Hair, Legally Blonde) as Charlie’s love interest, Lauren. Based on the rave reviews and enthusiastic audience response from the recent pre-Broadway world premiere in Chicago, Mitchell and team have every reason to feel confident about the upcoming Broadway debut of Kinky Boots. “One of the big themes of the show is about a person’s relationship with their father: how you perceive it and how you reconcile it, and move on with your life as an adult. I think that resonates with all audiences,” says Mitchell. “The other is this idea of acceptance, unity and coming together, which I think is so important for us today, in every aspect of our lives. And then, on top of all that, Kinky Boots is a heartfelt show that entertains the audience. They see themselves in the characters and they see the characters do the right things, which, I think, makes them want to also go out and do the right thing.”

Learn More About Kinky Boots