There's a lot to be said for consistency, but most business owners know that the ability to adapt to changing tastes and circumstances is what keeps them profitable over the long term. So it was for Steve Pateman, whose traditional shoe factory in rural England struggled when cheap imports flooded the country during the early 1990s.
As he contemplated closing his century-old company, he received a phone call from Sue Sheppard, who suggested catering to a not-so-niche market in transgender footwear — thigh-high, stiletto-heeled boots built to support a man's weight. The resulting Divine Footwear brand revived the factory for another decade.
This kind of quirky, uplifting story lends itself to dramatization, and in 2005, with a few tweaks for the sake of tidiness, it leapt to the big screen as Kinky Boots. An up-and-coming Chiwetel Ejiofor starred as Lola alongside Joel Edgerton as Charlie Price, subtly altered proxies for Sheppard and Pateman. One year later, a stage musical adaptation was in the works. It debuted on Broadway in 2013 with a book by Harvey Fierstein and music by '80s pop queen Cyndi Lauper. Kinky Boots marked Lauper's first foray into stage music.
"I think the fact that she brings the pop/rock element to musical theater is an amazing thing," says actor Curt Hansen via email. He plays the role of Charlie in the current touring production of Kinky Boots, which arrives in Spokane on Feb. 28 after several weeks arcing through Canada.
"In musical theater, songs have to be justified by a heightened state of emotion; the highs are so high and the lows are so low, the only thing that you can do is sing, and I think [Lauper's] songs support those moments in the show. For me, the rock music style helps me emote in a different way than most musicals allow."
Of those songs, his favorite is "Soul of a Man," a solo number that comes about midway through the second act after Charlie behaves with uncharacteristic ingratitude toward Lola.
"It is the first time I have ever been on a stage by myself just singing [in a professional show setting]. It's such an invigorating, and exciting, and terrifying, and incredible feeling to get to experience every night."
Having already crossed the country with Next to Normal and Wicked, Hansen says that touring is "something that you have to figure out" in order to endure its rigors. He was married in September and set off just three months later, making Kinky Boots one of his more challenging performances to date:
"I think this character and role have taught me a lot about limitations. So learning how to find a balance has been tough, but I'm getting the hang of it. My wife is super supportive and she gets to visit a lot, but that is definitely the toughest part about being on the road." Yet Hansen says that despite its demands, Kinky Boots offers the right amount of escapism for actors as well as audience.
"It's just downright fun," he writes. "I will put money on the fact that you will be on your feet, clapping, smiling and maybe even dancing by the last note of the show." Spokane audiences could very well get an extra kick from this production of Kinky Boots, as Timothy Ware will replace current lead J. Harrison Ghee when he steps into the role of Lola and her fierce footwear on opening night. ♦
Kinky Boots • Feb. 28-March 5: Tue-Sat, 7:30 pm; Sat, 2 pm; Sun, 1 pm • $32.50-$77.50 • INB Performing Arts Center • 334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. • 279-7000