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Kinky Boots Preview: A conversation with Tony Award winning Director Jerry Mitchell

By Katie Jenkins

December 28, 2015 

The touring cast and crew of the Tony Award-winning Kinky Boots make another stop in Charlotte this month after their successful run here last year. For one week only, December 29, 2015 – January 2, 2016, audiences at the Belk Theater at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center will see how an unlikely pair of friends can succeed in business and in opening the minds of the people around them.

Like fellow Broadway musicals The Producers and Hairspray, the production of Kinky Boots is based on an original film. In 2005 screenplay writers Geoff Deane and Tim Firth told the story of Charlie, a man who reluctantly takes over the family shoe business after his father’s death. He learns to take risks and accept help from Lola, a drag queen, and his inspiration for creating boots in the niche market for fetish footwear, in order to keep the business afloat.

Harvey Fierstein adapted the 2005 movie for the stage and collaborated closely with Cyndi Lauper, who composed the score. Director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell (from Broadway’s La Cage aux Folles, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Legally Blonde) brought Kinky Boots to life on stages in Chicago and New York City in 2013. It received an outstanding 13 Tony nominations, more than any other musical that year, which included the sensational hit Matilda (also coming to Charlotte in the new year). Kinky Boots also took home the most Tony awards that season, including Best Score for Lauper and Best Choreography for Mitchell.

Even though its critical acclaim developed gradually, Kinky Boots was immediately a fan favorite for its lively music and choreography. Mitchell has also been tasked with directing the touring production of Kinky Boots to bring the same inspirational story to U.S. and international audiences. Broadway is still enjoying the successful musical, which now has comedian Wayne Brady as Lola. Jerry Mitchell discusses the process of bringing Kinky Boots to the stage, including his own inspiration to help tell the story of the musical’s transformative characters.

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Courtesy of Kinky Boots

CLTure: How did the 2005 film Kinky Boots influence your direction of the musical and inspire your choreography?

Jerry Mitchell: The musical was based on the film. We wanted to keep the authenticity of the shoe manufacturing, so the reality of that world against the fabulousness of Lola’s drag world was really what inspired us to show the two ends of that spectrum.

The drag club choreography was very easy for me because I had done that before with La Cage and other productions … it was very “showy.”

The other choreography for the factory workers had to be based on pedestrian people and pedestrian moves. The conveyor belt number that closes the first act was a celebration of making the first “kinky boots” where everybody got up on the conveyor belt and danced around … so it was a meeting of two worlds.

CLTure: Were adaptations made to the musical between its run on Broadway and its national tour?

Jerry Mitchell: No adaptations were made to the script or the music. The only thing that changed a bit for the tour was a couple of scenic elements that made it easier to load in and out of each city.

Those elements are all behind the scenes–  nothing that an audience would see. The show on tour is almost identical to Broadway, except the red curtain in the Milan scene is thinner.

CLTure: What was your collaboration process with Cyndi Lauper like as you created choreography for her score?

Jerry Mitchell: Cyndi loves dance and she wanted to give me great beats, so she worked very hard on making the tracks of the dance numbers “The Sex Is In The Heel” and “Everybody Say Yeah” and “Raise You Up” … we worked very hard together.

She had a great team behind her, Stephen Oremus was a big part of that, he wrote the dance arrangements. And we just all worked together.

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Photo by Matthew Murphy

CLTure: How do the characters’ journey in Kinky Boots  compare to those in La Cage Aux Folles, and what other common themes attracted you to both musicals?

Jerry Mitchell: La Cage Aux Folles is about a son and his reluctance to bring his fiancé home to meet his parents because his parents are gay … two men. It was created in a time period when men couldn’t get married in the country … now we can!

And Kinky Boots isn’t really about accepting Lola. It’s actually about the character, Don, accepting Charlie … who is a spoiled brat who inherits his father’s shoe factory. Don and Charlie grew up in school together and Don thinks that Charlie will never be able to run the factory successfully. And he proves otherwise. It’s Lola who instigates this by asking Don to change his mind about someone. The audience may think that means when getting Don to change his mind about Lola. But it’s actually ends up being about anybody, anybody at all and it ends up being Charlie.

So the show is about two men who are failures in their father’s eyes … Lola and Charlie … coming together to make changes through their collective worlds.

CLTure: What unique qualities do the leads of the touring cast bring to the production?

Jerry Mitchell: Well, the same qualities the Broadway production has– they all can sing like superstars, they dance like superstars and they’re great actors. That’s why they got the job. I look for the very, very best and I think we have them on the tour!

Catch Kinky Boots in Charlotte from December 29, 2015 through January 3, 2016 at BELK THEATER.

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