Interview: Kinky Boots roundtable interview

Kinky Boots roundtable interview

Christa Ktorides took part in a riotous roundtable with Fierstein, Mitchell and Lauper.

The UK premiere of the Tony Award winning musical Kinky Boots opened at London’s Adelphi Theatre on 15th September.

The energetic and hugely enjoyable show is inspired by real events and the hit film of the same name which starred Chiwetel Ejiofor and Joel Edgerton. Set in a gentleman’s shoe factory in Northampton, Charlie Price is struggling to continue the family business, Price & Son. After a chance encounter with the flamboyant drag queen Lola and with encouragement from factory worker Lauren, Charlie hits upon a daring idea to save the factory.

The book is by Broadway legend Harvey Fierstein (Le Cage Aux Folles) and it’s directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell (Legally Blonde, Hairspray) with the ridiculously catchy songs by Cyndi Lauper.

Christa Ktorides took part in a riotous roundtable with Fierstein, Mitchell and Lauper and principle cast members Matt Henry (Lola/Simon), Killian Donnelly (Charlie) and Amy Lennox (Lauren).

You’ve been to Northampton?

Jerry Mitchell: All of the factory workers from Northampton were invited by us to come and see the show - we took the cast to Northampton for the very first day of rehearsal to tour the factory where they made the film, Trickers, because I had done it when we were preparing the New York production - and then we invited them all to see the show. There’s one particular young woman whose hair I loved so much I made the wig maker make her hair and put it in all the productions.

Amy Lennox: The mullet!

[Laughter]

Jerry Mitchell: Then I got a picture of her with the girls and it was sensational! They loved the show, they were in tears, they felt so special. The factory onstage looks very much like Trickers.

Cyndi had you ever had ambitions to write for Broadway? How did this all come about?

Cyndi Lauper: Never. I got a phone call from my buddy over here [indicates to Harvey Fierstein]. I had wanted to do this story - you know how one thing leads to another - I did an album and I chose all these old songs from when I was growing up. Where I grew up was very influential for the rest of my life because of the people, it was one of those places with the backyards with the gates where you could just look down there and see everybody else in the backyard. And there was a lot of people who were characters. I had gone to see Harvey to help me write it and have him actually write it and he was doing Hairspray. I remember because he said: “I gotta eat pasta, I need a lot of energy for this one!” [laughs]. He talked to me about stories and the possibility of what could happen in the story. After I finished ‘Bring Me to the Brink’ and the tour it was around 2008 and he called me up, I’d just finished washing the dinner dishes, and he said: “What are you doing?” and I said: “Really, not much.” and he said: “How would you like to write this thing, Kinky Boots?” and I said: “Absolutely.” I know nothing but I do know, on one hand the best musical book writers and Mr Fierstein is right up there on the top and I think that it is a real hard and tricky thing [to] write a musical. You have to know how and he did. I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t know what the hell I was getting into I just knew I was going to work with him and then he said he was working with him [indicates towards Jerry Mitchell]!

[Laughter]

Cyndi Lauper: And he was my friend too so I thought: “What the hell? I’m gonna have a good time. Just one thing, no crazy people!” and he said: “Fine, no crazy people.”

Harvey Fierstein: ….and then the producers turned up… [laughs].

Tell us about the writing process between the two of you.

Cyndi Lauper: He would call me up and [adopts Harvey Fierstein’s distinctive raspy voice] “I need a song called Sex Is In The Heel,” so I said fine and would go and write the song and then…

Jerry Mitchell: …I would say: “Write me a song where everybody says ‘yeah!’ I like this boot ‘yeah!’ I want a boot ‘yeah!’”

Harvey Fierstein: It’s a process. There’s nobody in the show who’s an ‘I want..’ character. They don’t know what they want. The show should open with somebody singing: “I want…” neither fucking one of them knows what they want!

[Laughter]

Harvey Fierstein: That’s a hard thing to do so I said: “At least let them tell the audience who they are and everyone defines their lives by the shoes.” Cyndi actually turned around at one point and said: “They do know they’re shoes right?” I’ll give you an example of how the three of us work; we were starting to write the show, Cyndi and I were writing and this one [Jerry] had to run off to London because he was working on Legally Blonde and he calls me from outside a pub and he says: “You’re not gonna fucking believe where I am. I’m in this pub and up on the second floor there is a boxing ring. They’re up there beating the shit out of each other.” And I said: “That’s it! That’s it! Get off the phone!” remember in the movie there’s an arm wrestle and I didn’t want to do the arm wrestle, how boring, it’s like a chewing gum blowing contest. So I call this one [Cyndi] up and she comes out of the world of wrestling and says: “I got it! In this corner,” and she starts writing In This Corner, I’m writing the scene and we go up to this one [Jerry] and say we’re gonna have David [Rockwell - Set Designer] build us a boxing ring onstage and he goes: “Fuck that,” and throws a drag queen on the floor sticks her leg up and wraps a cord around it: “We’ve got it.” There are some people, who will remain nameless, who spend millions of dollars putting rings on stage, he put a drag queen’s leg on stage. And that’s the creativity of theatre, you have these three minds feeding off each other having this wonderful time of creativity. And in reality nobody who’s seen the show would say: “Jerry came up with this…Harvey came up with this…Cyndi came up with this…” you should never know. If you know who came up with a specific idea we haven’t done our job right. It should be a blend of minds.

Matt, is it exhausting making the numerous transitions between Lola and Simon throughout the show?

Matt Henry: It’s very quick. At the beginning of the show it takes an hour for me to get made up and after Sex Is In The Heel I get ready to change into Simon and I’ve got four people around me ripping wigs off, taking eyelashes off and applying more make-up then get shoved back out. Then I have the interval, while everyone else is having cups of tea and biscuits I’m in the chair again having more make-up applied so by the time I’m finished the make-up is out here.

[Laughter]

Cyndi Lauper: But you look terrific!

Matt Henry: [Laughs] But I look amazing!

Jerry Mitchell: The role of Simon/Lola in the show, what you don’t see off stage is just as demanding as what’s going on onstage. He never stops, it’s literally a race.

Killian Donnelly: We learned that when we did the production photo’s, it was like: “Now we have to wait 15 minutes so that Matt can get into hair and make-up.”

Harvey Fierstein: Jerry and I talked about it and we didn’t want to lose the film sense of it.

Jerry Mitchell: The timing of some of the scenes is built specifically on how long it would take to get the other one back onstage.

Cyndi Lauper: If I was Matt I would be jealous of you [Killian] because you don’t have to put all that make-up on.

Killian Donnelly: He has to completely change from man to woman and then more make-up is put on and at the same time I run off the stage and I change a jumper and I run back on.

[Laughter]

It’s a popular film with some fantastic actors, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Joel Edgerton, was it daunting for you follow that?

Killian Donnelly: Yeah the hype that goes with the film was daunting because people love it and you just want to honour it but at the same time it’s a story that when it’s told through the stage of musical theatre it adds so much more to it. Especially to Lola’s character it just feels like that was the missing element that you could never portray on film…

Matt Henry: …yeah through songs, through movement. Also you get to more of the back stories and the relationship between Charlie and his father. On stage you can explore more of that than they did in the film.

Amy Lennox: Nicola [Charlie’s fiancé] was more featured in the film and Lauren was a very different character.

Harvey Fierstein: You lost the fact that they all knew each other since childhood, that was not really mentioned in the film. It’s like Jerry said to me one time when he came back from England: “This is a small town, they went to school together they all know each other.” This [Charlie and Lauren’s relationship] isn’t a flirtation between people that never saw each other before, they’ve know each other all their lives which is why I took out Nicola cheating on Charlie, I thought how misogynistic can you get?

Cyndi Lauper: What do you mean misogynistic?

Harvey Fierstein: [Whispers to Cyndi] in the car…

[Laughter]

Jerry Mitchell: I grew up in a family business so everyone in the business who worked for my parents were my extended family. And the show factory had that same feeling amongst the workers and they have to know each other and it strengthens the story if they know each other. So the adult characters who see Charlie and see him take over from his father strengthens their role even when they have nothing to say because on stage they have to be a full person even in scenes where they’re not speaking.

Harvey Fierstein: One of the big changes I made was that in the movie Charlie really does disappoint his father by not going into the shoe business but I changed it and the father lets him off the hook. As Nicola says to him: “Your father sold the factory walk away,” the father accepted it. The same thing with Lola in the movie you’re sort of left with this idea that Lola’s father tried to turn him into a boxer. No he didn’t. He saw: “I have this son who wears dresses, he better know how to take care of himself.” He taught him to fight out of love, he [Lola] doesn’t know that until the two of them [Charlie and Lola] fight in act 2 and he says everything that he was scared his father would ever say to him and he becomes his father. The two of them become the thing that they’re most frightened of and scare the reality into each other where they can finally get beyond it. It’s a beautiful moment that isn’t really in the film at all. And Lauren of course is there watching this change to this person, this non-entity, come to life.

Amy Lennox: Which makes it all the more funny when suddenly she gets smacked in the face with: “Oh shit, I love him.” Lauren is wacky. She’s very down to earth and very kind of kooky and off the wall and lovely and what’s lovely about their [Lauren and Charlie] relationship is they’ve grown up together and he’s just Charlie, whatever. And then of course when he takes over the factory she’s just like: “What the ….? Really?”

Killian Donnelly: That moment when Lauren turns and goes: “Oh I think I’ve got a crush,” it just feeds out to the audience because everyone’s had that.

Amy Lennox: The amount of people that come to me and say: “I am that person.” She gives him the kick up the arse and says to him: “Hold on a minute, why don’t you try and find a solution before you start laying everyone off?” and then everything starts rolling. And when she realises that he’s actually doing something amazing suddenly it smacks her in the face. The lighting and everything helps, it comes from nowhere essentially and whoomf! It’s a great song, I’ve never known a song like it [The History of Wrong Guys] it’s just so much fun to do every night, it’s magic to do.

Harvey Fierstein: Lauren makes everything happen. Lola says: “I can make the world a pretty place but don’t give me responsibility.” None of them want responsibility, not one of them wants to grow up.

Cyndi Lauper: I just remember when Jerry said: “She’s, in her own mind, in a video.” And I related to that so much.

Amy Lennox: We’ve even got the sort of 80’s hair blowing.

When you’re writing/rehearsing a show do you have any idea if it’s good?

Jerry Mitchell: We all love what we do. And we do it because we love it or we’re in love with the story or some aspect of the story and we hope that it will resonate with other people. We did a series of readings in New York before we go into rehearsal for the Broadway production. We were doing our last reading at a place called New 42 a rehearsal studio and we had invited people from the industry and we were standing in the back of the room. And the actor who was playing Don in New York, I had a pair of size 13 kinky boots, the only pair that we had, none had been made yet. I went up to him two days before this performance and I said: “Could you try on my kinky boots? I would love for you to wear them in the finale,” and he went: “Sure.” He couldn’t walk in them, literally. But he did. He walked on a little table basically and when he walked out into the middle of the room I remember seeing grown men scream, tears rolling down people’s cheeks and we were all crying thinking: “They’re getting it, they understand this story and it has the power to change people’s minds.”

Cyndi Lauper: We also used to watch them cry during Not My Father’s Son a lot.

Jerry Mitchell: That rehearsal room for me solidified the possibility of what was there. It was at that moment I realised this could be a very important musical that has a universal theme that a lot of people can relate to.

Harvey Fierstein: And unfortunately both of us lost our Mum’s during this process, it’s the one show neither of our Mum’s got to see. And so the two of us would be at the back for Not My Father’s Son and we’d be crying.

Killian Donnelly: It’s like that still because people will come to stage door, especially for musical theatre there will be wives who drag their husbands but with this show it’s the first time that I’ve ever noticed, I got my hand shook the other day by the husband and he goes: “My wife dragged me here because she heard how great it was, thank you so much.” He thanked me for the show. Usually they say: “Well done” and you go: “Thank you very much.” He thanked me and he was Don, he was the spit of Don but he was: “Thank you very much”, because the message is be who you want to be. You can change the world if you change your mind. When you play to 1,400 people if you change his mind it’s amazing how that really affects and that’s what you’re going for.

Amy Lennox: You can feel that in the audience. I don’t think I’ll ever do a show again where I feel this tsunami of energy, it’s insane.

Can you take us through the choreography behind the conveyor belt scene, how do you make sure the cast stay safe?

Jerry Mitchell: When Harvey presented me with the first draft we had all of these conveyor belts and then I went to Trickers and there were no conveyor belts and I thought: “What am I gonna do?” Then I remembered the OK Go video where they’re on four treadmills on the floor and I wondered if I could put the treadmills in the air 4ft off the floor could I create a conveyor belt that we could dance on. They built me an 8ft conveyor built with no handlebars, brought it into the rehearsal studio and I fell off of it four times. So I sent it back to the shop and asked them to build bars and I said let’s make them movable bars so I would be able to mess around with them. The thing had all different speeds so I sent it back again and said: “Give me two speeds, slow and fast.” By now I was getting the hang of it and feeling how I could use the bars so it was about a 6 month development period. Once i got one built and liked it they made four more and then I called some dancers into the room and started creating the number. I literally went beat by beat and picked sections, like the fives I created first which when they’re all facing different ways and they’re doing forward rolls and sliding and flipping. Then I did the section with the two of them called ‘Fred and Ginger’ and then I did some transition sections and then I just started piecing it all together with Stephen Oremus our Musical Director and came up with the number. Once the number was created I knew it would be safe, each machine has three buttons on it that are operated by the actors so they’re doing it every night and they actually know what to do if one breaks down, how they continue the number.

Matt you obviously have to wear the heels a lot but the rest of the cast have to wear them at one point as well. How was it for you to get used to them?

Matt Henry: The hardest heels for me are the Sex Is In The Heel heels, they’re the highest ones, they’re 6 inches and it’s full on dancing in them. It took 7 weeks to really go from Bambi to Black Beauty!

[Laughter]

Matt Henry: I’m still getting strong, still learning but it’s amazing to know I’m now on a level with women.

Jerry Mitchell: You had worn heels prior to this…

Matt Henry: Yes.

Jerry Mitchell: [To Killian] Had you worn heels?

Killian Donnelly: No I hadn’t, if you [Matt] were Bambi then I was Drunk Bambi.

[Laughter]

Killian Donnelly: He had given me heels in a job I was doing three weeks before we started rehearsals, so I’d be in a dressing room and just slide on these heels, walking around, knock at the door, take them off. And he was always chest out, bum out, balls of the feet walk on and when I got into the boots for the first time in rehearsals I remember all the Angels were there watching. So I just start walking and I relaxed into it and the [Lola’s] Angel’s said: “You’re like a duck to water.”

Jerry Mitchell: The interesting thing about theatre technically speaking, a lot of shows have scenery that comes and goes from the wings on what’s called tracks, so a track brings a piece of scenery on. When we designed the show I designed it to have no tracks in the down part of the stage because of the heels. Particularly for the factory workers, I knew a lot of them wouldn’t have experience dancing in high heels and I didn’t want them to get their feet caught in the tracks. So we specifically designed the deck with only two tracks. That’s rare for a West End musical, usually there’s tons of tracks.

Kinky Boots is on at the Adelphi Theatre, London now and is booking until February 2016 kinkybootsthemusical.co.uk. Photo: Kinky Boots Ensemble by Matt Crockett.

Default ad alt text goes here