|Steven Booth of "Kinky Boots"|
It's a considerable distance from the summer theater venue in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho (a town of some 44,000 inhabitants) to the Providence Performing Arts Center, but Steven Booth (co-star of the National Tour of the musical “Kinky Boots”) has made this transition in what has been an undeniably incredible period for the young actor. Along the way he's been seen in “Avenue Q” in Las Vegas and New York, and both on and off Broadway in two other musicals, “Dogfight” (winner of several awards) and “Glory Days”, and can be heard on the original cast albums of both. Not only has he spent the last year or so on the road with “Kinky Boots”, but last October he got married to the woman of his dreams. In a recent phone interview, he was both ecstatic and graciously humble in describing how thankful he was for these events in his professional and personal life. And to think that this already amazing career got started in a choir.
“Kinky Boots”, the latest offering in the PPAC Broadway series, was a surprising choice for a musical when it debuted in the 2013 Broadway season. Based on a relatively unknown 2005 British-based film featuring a then-unknown Chiwetel Ejiofor (later to be recognized for his fine work in a subsequent film, “Twelve Years a Slave”), which in turn was based on a real-life story. It concerned the plight of a Northampton shoe factory owner named Charlie whose business, which he inherited from his father, needed a lift. There followed an unlikely business partnership that resulted from an encounter with a drag queen named Lola whom he rescued from a gang of bigoted heels, discovering in the process that Lola's inferior boot heels were a disgrace. The two of them eventually combine their respective talents for manufacturing and design to produce a superior line of, well, kinky boots. In the process, they also won over an entire village to the realization that all people have a good deal more in common than they might first be aware of, and being different isn't that big a deal. A simple story, told well, with fine music, yes, but one that would emerge eventually as a critical and commercial hit, after garnering no fewer than thirteen Tony Award nominations, winning six of them, including Best Musical. What it also won was the hearts of its audiences who warmly embraced its themes of community and father-son bonding, as well as being an anthem against prejudice and stereotyping.
It's this heartfelt message that Booth appreciates most. When asked what his favorite part of this musical is, he immediately referenced the poignant scene just before the end of the first act when Charlie and Lola first realize how much they had in common despite their differences. In this National Tour, Booth plays Charlie and Kyle Taylor Parker (aka “KTP”) plays Lola, with support from Lindsay Nicole Chambers (Lauren), Joe Coots (Don), Grace Stockdale (Nicola), and Craig Woletzko (George), as Directed and Choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, with Music and Lyrics by Cindi Lauper and Book by Harvey Fierstein. It opens next week on Tuesday June 9th and will play through Sunday June 14th . (Those living to the north should be advised that the identical show will be presented in Boston August 11th to 30th).
Booth may have gotten his start in a local choir and a high school production of “Bye, Bye, Birdie”, but this current role shows just how far he has come, what with its depiction of the high fashion world of drag queens. Yet it's not that big a stretch, given that, at its core, the show (which was fabulous on Broadway and promises to be equally impressive given the fact that the design team remains the same) transcends the usual clichés. It's about those drag queens about as much as “Gypsy” is about strippers. Both shows use unfamiliar milieus to teach some common basic values. One might be tempted to categorize “Kinky Boots” as a fantasy that could never occur in real life; the truth is, however, as noted above, that this is all based on a story that really happened. So get the kinks out of your boots and get thee to this providential encounter with Booth and “KTP”. Providence may never be the same again.