These ‘Kinky Boots’ are made for walking – fabulously

February 26, 2017 GMT

When a man inherits a failing shoe factory in England, his first instinct is to sell and get out from under.

But that would make for a very short Broadway musical.

Instead, he finds a creative way to save the factory and the workers it employs by making fabulous footwear for a niche clientele: drag queens. Along the way, he and some of his friends learn the meaning of love and acceptance.

That’s the story told in “Kinky Boots,” the hit Broadway musical now on tour and coming to Spokane. The musical, with songs by pop star Cyndi Lauper and the book by Broadway icon Harvey Fierstein, is based on 2005 film, which itself was based on a real-life story.

In this six-time Tony winner, Charlie Price (Curt Hansen) inherits the family shoe factory in Northampton, England. He’d like to save it, but would rather peruse a real estate career in London. Coming home from the pub one night, he sees a woman being harassed. He intervenes, and is knocked out for his troubles. He awakens in a nightclub dressing room and learns the woman he attempted to help is Lola, the club’s star drag queen.

He spots the club’s performers – dubbed “the angels” – walking on shoes not intended to carry their weight. Eventually that sparks an idea: Perhaps his shoe factory could be refitted to serve this niche market. He brings Lola back to Northampton to help him design the perfect boot, and begins trying to persuade his workers to give it a try.

Among those workers is Lauren, and in the touring production that opens in Spokane on Tuesday, she’s played by Broadway veteran Rose Hemingway.

Hemingway, who joined the tour in December, says Lauren is not a typical ingenue, and that’s part of the appeal. “Usually there’s a certain formula that ingenues tend to fit,” she said. “And I really am drawn to those characters who are a little outside the box, and for sure Lauren is that. She’s a working class girl and she’s not the type who expects to get the guy. She’s a little more gritty than some of the characters I’m played in the past, and I enjoy that.”

Fans of Lauper might be disappointed not to hear some of her biggest hits, such as “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” or “True Colors.” “Kinky Boots” is not a jukebox musical. But the original score, which won Lauper a Tony, traffics in that same joy that made Lauper’s music so popular.

Some people view Lauren as the Lauper character in the show, and Hemingway can see that.

“There’s a free spirit there and she’s a lot of fun,” Hemingway said of Lauren. “For sure vocally, my song (“The History of Wrong Guys”) sounds the most Cyndi Lauper-esque. … There’s definitely a bit of that quirk that carries through the show. And it makes it really fun. It’s a little bit left of center.”

The show itself has proven to be a popular hit on Broadway, where it’s been running for four years. It’s charm, Hemingway says, lies in its upbeat music and positive message.

“It’s the kind of show you get in, pretty quickly you learn you’re going to have a good time, you’re going to be laughing,” she said. “You fall in love with Lola right out of the gate. And I think what people are taken aback by is that you’re going to be crying too. It’s that kind of a show, where you’re having such a good time and before you know it, you realize you’re emotionally moved by the story.”

Speaking of Lola

The national tour of “Kinky Boots” is getting a new Lola, according to broadwayworld.com.

Timothy Ware will step into Lola’s fabulous boots beginning Tuesday night in Spokane. But he’s already well versed in the role – he served as the Lola standby on Broadway, where he performed the role 186 times. He’s replacing J. Harrison Ghee, who is heading back to New York to assume the Lola role on Broadway.

Other cast notables

Jim J. Bullock will be a familiar face to many who watched television in the 1980s. The actor co-starred with Ted Knight on the 1980-87 sitcom “Too Close For Comfort” and was a regular square on the John Davidson verion of “The Hollywood Squares” from 1986-89. He had roles in the movies “Spaceballs” and “Kissing Jessica Stein,” and appearances on the TV shows “The Bad and the Beautiful,” “Roseanne,” “Glee” and “Seinfeld.”

In “Kinky Boots,” he plays George, the factory manager. “I love George. He’s the older guy and he’s a great spirit to have around,” Bullock told broadwayworld.com. “I love playing him. On paper, I don’t have a lot of lines. I have a lot of stage time. The presence he has is very apparent. It’s a great role for me. I don’t want any more. I’m happy to have an easy track and not having to remember a lot of lines. Those boots, I have on just a perfect amount of time.

Another familiar face can be found among the ensemble. Justin Colombo was last in Spokane in 2013 with “Rock of Ages,” playing the show’s narrator, Lonny.