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‘Kinky Boots’ director talks Cyndi Lauper and fabulous choreography

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"Kinky Boots"' run at the Fox begins Tuesday.
"Kinky Boots"' run at the Fox begins Tuesday.

“Kinky Boots”‘ run at the Fox begins Tuesday.

If you think “The Book of Mormon” is a hard sell among casual theatergoers, imagine the complexity of a show called “Kinky Boots.”

The highly pedigreed musical — six Tonys in 2013, including best musical and best original score for Cyndi Lauper — has been touring the country for a year and a half while maintaining sturdy box office numbers at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on Broadway, its home for three years.

It plays the Fox Theatre Tuesday through Sunday.

“The biggest challenge is that in America, ‘kinky’ means something different than in London,” said “Kinky Boots” director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell, who also nabbed a choreography Tony for the show.

Mitchell is renowned for his work with “Hairspray” (he’s working with Atlanta’s Kenny Leon on a live TV production slated for December) and a 2005 revival of “La Cage Aux Folles” as well as his current masterwork on the Great White Way — the frisky Gloria Estefan-centered musical, “On Your Feet!”

But despite its eyebrow-raising, quizzical-look-prompting name, “Kinky Boots” is a story about family. A young man, Charlie Price (Adam Kaplan on tour), has inherited his father’s struggling shoe factory and is compelled to save the family business. After he meets the soulful drag queen Lola (J. Harrison Ghee), who needs some dazzling boots, the pair learns life lessons from each other and realizes how much they have in common.

A sweet and snappy book from Harvey Fierstein married with a score from Lauper that is both spunky (“Sex Is in the Heel”) and tender (“Not My Father’s Son”) ensures that “Kinky Boots” oozes with heart.

Last week, Mitchell chatted from his New York base about how the show is relatable, why Lauper was the ideal choice to pen the score and that fabulous choreography.

The dazzling Lola.

The dazzling Lola.

Q: When you were first creating “Kinky Boots” for the stage, how influential was the movie (which bowed in 2005), which most people probably don’t even know about?

A: The movie wasn’t a big success over here. I think the movie was important, but the difference between the movie and stage as Harvey’s book brought out was the father-son conflict, which wasn’t so apparent in the film, and how to heal yourself.

Q: For those who don’t know anything about the show or the movie, how do you explain something called “Kinky Boots”?

A: This show is very close to my own heart for a lot of reasons. I grew up in a family business. My grandparents and parents had a bar/restaurant, and none of my siblings or I took it over. I relate to the other family you have when you have a family-owned business. There are so many great messages in “Kinky Boots,” particularly right now with what’s going on in our country. When we opened (the show), there was no gay marriage, no accepting people for what they are — it’s still an important message today.

Q: What do you think Cyndi Lauper’s score brings to the show?

A: Cyndi wrote a brilliant score and gave me plenty of things to dance to. I had choreographed the video for her (1994 “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” remake) “Hey Now,” and knew her from that. Cyndi has been true to herself her entire life. When she first burst onto the scene the same time as Madonna, they were two completely different artists. One changed as she needed to, but Cyndi remained true to herself and her sound. I think that put her out of the mainstream a little, and that served her enormously well writing for Lola. I think she was able to deliver “Not My Father’s Son” because she was surrounded by lots of life lessons.

Q: As a choreographer, what did you want “Kinky Boots” to show with its dance sequences?

A: I knew that the sexy drag queen part would be a lot of fun, but what I didn’t know was how to make the pedestrian-ness of the factory workers interesting. How do I bring those two worlds together? There are no conveyor belts delivering shoes in shoe factories — they live in carts. Pattern pieces come down the conveyor belts and they’re a theatrical device, so I thought of the OK Go video (“Here It Goes Again”) with the band dancing on treadmills and thought what if I could make treadmills 4 feet off the ground and dance on them? It took about four months to build that segment (of the show). The producers begged me to make it longer and I said, “Leave them wanting more.”

Q: You’re going to be working with Kenny Leon for the live TV production of “Hairspray” (Dec. 7 on NBC). Have you gotten very far with planning yet?

A: We’ve had three meetings. He’s been incredible — just delightful and funny.


THEATER PREVIEW

“Kinky Boots”

7:30 p.m. March 29-31; 8 p.m. April 1; 2 and 8 p.m. April 2; 1 and 6 p.m. April 3. $30-$150. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 1-855-285-8499, www.foxtheatre.org.


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