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Kinky Boots: interview with the cast and creative team

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Following an acclaimed Broadway run and a whopping six Tony Award wins, the musical version of the cult film Kinky Boots landed at the Adelphi Theatre in a blaze of glitter earlier this month.

Kinky BootsI met with creative team Harvey Fierstein (book writer), Cyndi Lauper (music and lyrics), and Jerry Mitchell (direction and choreography), as well as lead actors Matt Henry (Lola), Killian Donnelly (Charlie), and Amy Lennox (Lauren), to learn more about the show.

Cyndi, you’ve obviously had a very long, successful pop career. Had you ever thought of writing musicals before Kinky Boots?

Cyndi Lauper: Never. 

So how did this come about?

CL: I got a phone call. I had wanted to do this story with all these songs from the time I was growing up. Where I grew up was very influential for the rest of my life because there were a lot of people who were very big characters. I’d gone to see Harvey to help me write it – well, he went right, I went left, whatever. Then after I’d finished Bring Ya To The Brink and the tour, he called me up. I’d just finished doing the dinner dishes. He said, “What are you doing?” And I said, really not much. And he said, “How’d you like to write this thing for Kinky Boots?” And I said absolutely.

The thing is, you don’t just write a musical; you have to know how, and he did. I didn’t know what I was doing, so I didn’t know what I was getting into. I just knew I was working with Harvey, and then he said he was working with Jerry. So I’m saying hey, I’m gonna have a good time!

What was the creative process like – how did you work together to write the show?

CL: Harvey would call me up and he’d say, “I need a song called 'Sex Is In The Heel'.” And I’d say, fine, and I’d go and write the song.

Jerry Mitchell: And I’d say, “Listen. Write me a song where everybody says ‘yeah’. We made this boot. We like this boot. Yeah!”

Harvey Fierstein: I’ll give you an example of how the three of us work – because this is a very good example. We were starting to write the show and Jerry had to run off to London because he was working on Legally Blonde. And he calls me from outside a pub and he says, “You’re not gonna fucking believe where I am. I’m in this pub and up on the second floor is a boxing ring.” I said you’re kidding me? He says no this is full on boxing; they’re beating the shit out of each other. I said that’s it! Because you remember in the movie there’s the arm wrestle, well I didn’t wanna do an arm wrestle.

CL: How big are you gonna make those arms?

HF: You might as well do a chewing gum blowing competition.

JM: A chess match!

HF: And Cyndi comes out of the world of wrestling, so she goes I got it! I got it! In This Corner! She starts writing In This Corner, I’m writing the scene, she already knows cause she comes out of the wrestling world, she comes out with In This Corner, we go up to Jerry and we go like, “We’re gonna have David build us a boxing ring on stage”, he goes, “Fuck that”, throws a drag queen on the floor, “Put your leg up”, sticks her leg up, wraps a cord around it, you got it.

And that’s the creativity of theatre. You have these three minds feeding off each other having this wonderful time creating. And no one would ever say, “Jerry came up with this, Harvey came up with this, Cyndi came up -” you should never know. If you know who came up with a specific idea, we haven’t done our job right; it should be a blend.

Matt, what does it take for you to transition between Lola and Simon several times in this show?

Matt Henry: It’s very quick! At the beginning of the show, it takes an hour for me to get all made up. Then after 'Sex Is In The Heel' I come off and I’ve got about four minute – I think it’s Amy’s solo song – to get ready and change into Simon. I’ve got four people around me ripping wigs off, taking eyelashes off and applying more makeup, then I get shoved back out. During the interval I’m in the chair again having more makeup applied, while everybody else is having cups of tea and biscuits. So by the time I’m finished the make up is out to here.

CL: But you look terrific!

MH: But I look amazing. 

JM: With the role of Simon/Lola, what you don’t see is just as demanding as what’s going on onstage. He never stops; it’s a race.

Killian Donnelly: We learned that when we did the production photos. It was like, okay: now we have to wait 15 minutes so that Matt can get into hair and makeup. And we’d all just wait around doing nothing.

JM: The timing of some of the scenes is built specifically on how long it would take to get the other one [of Simon or Lola] back on stage.

HF: And Killian changes onstage half the time. His changes are like: Amy comes on with his jacket.

CL: It’s very difficult. I think that if I was Matt I’d be jealous of you, Killian, because you don’t have to put all the makeup on.

KD: He has a change where he gets completely changed from man to woman and then more makeup is put on, and at the same time I run off the stage, I change a jumper, and I run back on. And I can see him at the top of the stairs. I’m looking at him going, “I’m so sorry”.

From the actors’ point of view, to step into these roles that in the film were played by Chiwotel Ejiofor and Joel Edgerton – was that at all daunting, did you feel a lot of pressure to live up to it?

KD: The hype that goes with the film was daunting because people love it and care about it, and you want to honour that. But at the same time it’s a story that when it’s told through musical theatre, it adds so much more, especially to Lola’s character. It just feels like that was the missing element that you could never portray on film.

MH: You get more of the character through song and through movement, and also you get to see more of the backstories and the relationship between Charlie and his father. I think that onstage, you can explore more of that than they did in the film.

So what’s different and what’s added to the musical that fans of the film might not recognise?

HF: In the film, you lost the fact that they all knew each other in childhood. That is not really mentioned.

JM: I mean I grew up in a family business, right? And so everyone in the business who worked for my parents, was part of my extended family. And the shoe factory has that same feeling amongst the workers. They have to know each other, and it strengthens the story if they know each other; all of these characters have to be full people on stage, and that element strengthens their role even when they have nothing to say.

Amy Lennox: Lauren was a very different character visually and in terms of role size, too. In this version Lauren’s wacky, she’s fabulous. She’s very down to earth, very kooky and off the wall as well, and lovely. What’s lovely in their relationship is that they’ve grown up together and she’s been like, it’s just Charlie, whatever. And then of course when he takes over the factory she’s just like, really?

KD: That moment where Lauren turns to the audience and goes, “Oh I think I’ve got a crush!” It just feeds out to the audience, because everyone’s had that.

AL: The amount of people that have come to me and said, “I felt that! I am that person, that has happened to me!” So many people have said that to me on stage door. When she realises that Charlie is actually doing something amazing, suddenly it smacks her in the face and she realises, and it’s – I mean the lighting helps, but it just comes from nowhere essentially, it’s just this da-da-da-da and there’s this spotlight! Yeah it’s a great song, I’ve never known a song like it. It’s just so much fun to do every night. It’s magic to do.

When was the point in this process that you all realised, “We’re really on to something here”. Does that point ever arrive?

JM: Well you know, we all love what we do. And we do it because we’re in love with some aspect of the story, and we hope that it will resonate with other people. But I think for us it was the last reading in New York City, when we invited people from the industry in. I had a pair of size thirteen kinky boots, which were the only pair that we had; none were made yet and these were a store-bought pair that I had. And I went up to the actor who played Don about two days before this performance and I said, “What size foot do you have?” And he said 13. I said, “Could you try on my kinky boots, I’d love for you to wear them in the finale.” He went, “Sure.” When he walked out to the middle of the room, I remember seeing grown men scream and tears rolling down people’s cheeks. We were just all crying and thinking, they’re getting it, and they understand this story. It has the power to change people’s minds.

HF: Unfortunately Jerry and I both lost our moms during this process, and it was the one show my mom never got to see, the one show his mom never got to see. My last show was Newsies, she came to opening night and then passed. So the two of us would be at the back for Not My Father’s Son and we didn’t even know if anybody else was crying but we were.

KD: But it’s like that still, because people come to stage door, and especially for musical theatre it’ll be the wives who’ve dragged their husbands. But with this show, it’s the first time that I’ve ever known this, I got my hand shook the other day at stage door by the husband. And he goes, “My wife dragged me here, because she’d heard how great it was, but she dragged me here. Thank you so much.”

AL: And you know what, you can feel that in the audience. I’ve never, and I don’t think I’ll ever do a show again where I feel this tsunami of energy. It’s insane, and it’s not just a, “Oh my god that was amazing we loved it!” It’s a, “I need to tell you how wonderful that was.” You feel it, and I’ve never known anything like it.

KD: The message is just be who you wanna be – you can change the world if you change your mind. If you play to 1400 people and you can change the husband’s mind – it’s amazing how it really affects people.

Kinky Boots is currently booking at the Adelphi Theatre into 2016.

For more information and tickets, visit the Kinky Boots London website. www.kinkybootsthemusical.co.uk/




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