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The curtain’s up on Cyndi Lauper’s Broadway-bound ‘Kinky Boots’

Jerry Mitchell Harvey FiersteCyndi Lauper make up powerhouse creative team behind “Kinky Boots” playing Bank AmericTheatre.

Jerry Mitchell, Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper make up the powerhouse creative team behind “Kinky Boots,” playing at the Bank of America Theatre.

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‘KINKY BOOTS’

◆ Through Nov. 4

◆ Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe

◆ Tickets, $33-$100

◆ (800) 775-2000;
www.BroadwayInChicago.com

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Updated: October 11, 2012 6:38PM



Lace ’em up, test your balance and start to dance.

“Kinky Boots,” the new Broadway-bound musical that opens in its official “Chicago tryout” Oct. 17 at the Bank of America Theatre, is based on the 2005 British film about Charlie Price, a young man trying to save the failing boot factory left to him by his father. On a trip to London, Charlie literally gets knocked out trying to save someone he believes is a damsel in distress. Instead, it is Lola, a drag queen, and it’s not long before the factory’s bottom line is elevated by the production of fetish footwear. The family business is rescued. So are the jobs of Charlie’s workers.

If you expect the show’s creative team to gab on about how the new musical captures a sense of the long recession that this country, and much of the rest of the world, is currently experiencing — or about how once all-important manufacturing jobs are in jeopardy — think again. This is a musical about the things Broadway invariably champions most fiercely — human relationships, tolerance, and the acceptance and embrace of those who are “different.”

“This is very human subject matter — about a father and son, and about two opposite people who eventually join forces and change their little corner of the world,” said Cyndi Lauper, the show’s composer-lyricist. Yet she also can playfully mimic the admonishments she gets from Harvey Fierstein, who has written the book for the musical.

“He keeps telling me, ‘None of that kumbaya stuff, Mary’ — which is his nickname for me,” Lauper said.

Lauper, of course, is the Grammy Award-winning pop icon whose 1983 anthem, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” catapulted her to the ranks of the platinum-certified, and on to a career that has seen the sale of a reported 50 million albums worldwide. This is the first Broadway score by the 59-year-old Queens, New York-bred girl who grew up singing along to the original Broadway cast recordings of “My Fair Lady,” “South Pacific” and “Funny Girl,” until, as she put it, “I got two records for Christmas, met the Supremes and the Beatles, and learned the difference between my music and my mother’s music.”

Fierstein is the multifaceted, Tony Award-winning actor who starred in “Hairspray” and penned “Torch Song Trilogy” and the books for such musicals as “La Cage aux Folles” and “Newsies.”

The third member of the creative triumverate is Michigan-born Jerry Mitchell, who began as a Broadway chorus dancer, created the choreography for such shows as “The Full Monty,” “Hairspray” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” and directed “Legally Blonde.”

Lauper recalled the genesis of it all: “It was Harvey who called me about writing the score for ‘Kinky Boots,’ and he is such a wonderful storyteller and friend I didn’t even look at the movie before I said ‘Yes!’ I knew that being between Harvey and Jerry — and with the wonderful work of my orchestrator and arranger [Broadway veteran] Stephen Oremus, who really is my genius co-writer — I would be protected.”

A petite woman, who uses the word “f...in’” as if it were a comma, Lauper chatted about the show recently, arriving dressed in a girly black corset top, with elaborate rings on all her fingers and a streak of rosy pink in her pale hair.

Scrolling through her mobile phone for snatches of tunes from the show she explained: “More than anything I wanted my songs not just to have great melodies, but to capture how people really talk. I wrote the dad’s voice first, with a line that says ‘You could tell about a fella from his shoes,’ and I even thought about all the fathers’ voices I loved, and listened to old recordings from England. The ‘shoes numbers’ had to have a sound of their own, and I kept thinking of [the Rimsky-Korsakov score for] ‘Scheherazade,’ or a heavenly harp. And then Jerry said he wanted a big song for the first act finale, and I kept riffin’ for something til I came up with ‘Everybody say yeah’.”

“On Broadway, as in the pop world, you have to be collaborative,” said Lauper, whose sole experience as a Broadway performer was playing Jenny in the 2006 revival of “The Threepenny Opera.” (The New York Times described her this way: “Looking like Dietrich and sounding like a Brooklyn [Edith] Piaf, Ms. Lauper delivers Jenny’s ballads with teary, soulful intensity.”)

“Kinky Boots” first came to Mitchell by way of producer Daryl Roth.

“I watched the DVD of the film and cried, because it is such a beautiful story about fathers and sons,” Mitchell said. “It’s about two men [with Charlie played by Stark Sands, whose credits include “American Idiot” and “Journey’s End,” and Lola played by Billy Porter, who starred in “Angels in America” and “Smokey Joe’s Cafe”], who feel as if they’re failures in their own fathers’ eyes. But they learn to be their own men, and along the way come to know each other.”

“The story comes with a built-in performance element by way of Lola,” said Mitchell, whose own size-13 feet required three pairs of specially engineered heels for rehearsal purposes. “The rest of the storytelling is like film closeups, which can be done beautifully on Broadway by way of the ballad.”

Texas-bred actor Stark Sands, 34, is tall and graceful, with choirboy good looks (and a British wife). He was part of the show’s initial workshop and recalled “it was in great shape from the start, with really satisfying dramatic scenes that start out as hurtful but eventually become something else. The score is a great mix of pop, gospel and rhythm and blues. And I really have to pinch myself when I think I have the opportunity to be the first to sing it.”

Pittsburgh-bred, Carnegie Mellon University-educated Billy Porter started singing in a Pentacostal church, but lights up and hyperventilates as he proclaims: “I didn’t know anything about Broadway musicals until I became part of government-funded after-school arts programs. Doing Rodgers and Hart’s ‘Babe in Arms,’ and listening to ‘Dreamgirls,’ changed my life.”

As for playing Lola: “He is a man who has embraced a truth that can make others very uncomfortable, but he has harnessed the courage to live inside that truth.”

Porter’s own coming out was difficult. As he recalls: “My mom was always supportive of me, but the extended family not so much. I was confusing to them, and while they understand Beyonce and the Kardashians, they don’t quite understand theater as a way of making a living.”

About working with Lauper, Porter said: “I still remember this electrifying little white girl with pink hair hollering back at Patti LaBelle on some television special. I love her.”

Lauper happily repeats Fierstein’s words: “He always says ‘When you change a mind you change the world.’ And that’s what this show is about.”

“Kinky Boots” will open April 4 at Broadway’s Al Hirschfeld Theater. Lauper already has a crucial part of her opening night outfit: A pair of thigh-high red suede boots courtesy of Manolo Blahnik.



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