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Aug 26, 2015

‘Kinky Boots’ struts into the Peace Center

Greenville News

Paul Hyde, [email protected] 8:56 a.m. EDT August 26, 2015

“Kinky Boots” is not as kinky as it sounds.

Sure, Cyndi Lauper’s Tony Award-winning blockbuster, opening Tuesday at the Peace Center, features a bevy of drag queens and some sexy songs.

But scratch the surface and what you’ll find is a show that touches on such traditional musical themes as finding your way in the world and learning to accept others.

“A lot of people are surprised at how wholesome the show is,” said Steven Booth, who plays the role of factory owner Charlie Price.

“It’s really about two guys who realize they’re very much alike even though they’re from opposite sides of the tracks,” Booth said.

The two men are Charlie and the drag queen Lola who meet in the Midlands of England and form an unlikely partnership.

Charlie’s shoe factory, which he inherited from his father, falls on hard times. To save the business, Charlie and Lola develop a plan to produce a line of high-heeled boots for drag queens.

“It’s a story about fathers, sons, families, relationships, overcoming odds and figuring out who you are and accepting other people for who they are,” said Lindsay Nicole Chambers, who plays Charlie’s unexpected love interest Lauren.

Lauper’s high-octane score propelled the show to six 2013 Tony Awards, including for Best Musical and Best Score.

The singer/songwriter floored the Broadway world with her skill at writing theater music in her first foray into the genre. But her success was no surprise for Chambers.

“Cyndi Lauper has always written songs that are not only singable but also tell a story,” said Chambers, speaking by phone from Boston, where the tour was enjoying a three-week run.

Lauper’s music for the show ranges from hard-charging rock numbers to introspective ballads and exhilarating showstoppers for the entire ensemble.

Director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell (“Legally Blonde,” “La Cage Aux Folles”) fills the show with several eye-popping ensemble pieces, including a now-famous dance on moving conveyor belts at Charlie’s shoe factory.

The production that struts into the Peace Center Tuesday for eight performances is the First National Tour, which debuted just about a year ago in Las Vegas and has been hitting mostly major metropolitan areas.

Broadway shows rarely arrive at a midsize market such as the Peace Center so early in the game.

Booth and Chambers, young New York-based actors with substantial Broadway credits, have been with tour from the beginning.

“I love it that it’s a show that everyone can see,” Booth said, noting that the musical is recommended for ages 10 and up.

“I love to look out and see grandparents and kids in the audience,” he said. “It’s fun to see the joy in the audience with everyone happy and clapping. It’s definitely an uplifting show.”

What’s it like when Charlie himself dons the shiny boots of the title?

“You know what, it’s awesome,” Booth said. “It’s gorgeous leather and custom-made. It fits like a glove.”

Booth and Chambers agree that the show’s title of “Kinky Boots” may give theater-goers a skewed impression.

“In Europe, the word ‘kinky’ means ‘fabulous’ and ‘exciting,’” Booth said. “In the U.S. we tend to go in darker directions with the word ‘kinky.’”

Falling in love

Chambers saw “Kinky Boots” on Broadway not long after it opened and fell in love with the role of the factory worker Lauren when the character sang “The History of Wrong Guys” — a soaring number in which Lauren meditates nervously on her growing affection for Charlie.

“I said to myself, ‘I gotta do that part,’” said Chambers, whose Broadway credits include top roles in “Legally Blonde” and “Hairspray.”

“I’m not usually the ingenue,” she added. “I like having this role where I can go through a lot of different emotions. I get to have some funny scenes and heartfelt scenes and fall in love with the guy. It’s really a satisfying show for an actor.”

Booth, for his part, calls Charlie “the most physically and vocally draining roles I’ve ever played.”

“The songs are demanding and high and they’re rock,” Booth added. “I have to be disciplined and protect my voice.”

He added with a laugh, “I’m not one of the ones in the cast who goes out after the show.”

“Kinky Boots” is based on the 2005 British film of the same name.

The production coming to Greenville features an ensemble of almost three dozen — relatively sizable for a Broadway touring show these days.

Following the show’s week-long run in Greenville, the cast will enjoy a two-week vacation. Booth heads to Hawaii to enjoy a long-delayed honeymoon with his wife Molly, who he married last October shortly after the tour began.

The Peace Center will offer a Pre-Show Talk, free to ticket-holders, on Wednesday, Sept. 2 at 6:30 p.m. in the center’s Huguenot Mill building.

For the latest in local arts news and reviews, follow Paul Hyde on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.

YOU CAN GO

What: “Kinky Boots,” the musical by Cyndi Lauper (music and lyrics) and Harvey Fierstein (book)

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; also 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Peace Center Concert Hall, downtown Greenville

Tickets: $55 to $95

Information: 864-467-3000 or www.peacecenter.org