3:17am

Thu April 4, 2013
Theater

'Kinky Boots' Walk Cyndi Lauper To Broadway

Originally published on Thu April 4, 2013 10:01 am

If you ask Billy Porter, one of the lead actors in the Broadway musical Kinky Boots, what the show's about, he's got a succinct answer:

"It's about two people who have daddy issues," Porter says. "And one of them just happens to wear a dress."

Porter would be that guy: He plays Lola, a fabulous drag queen who inadvertently helps save a failing shoe factory in the English Midlands. And he gets to sing fabulous songs — by Cyndi Lauper.

More than four years ago, Lauper was asked by her good friend Harvey Fierstein if she'd like to write a musical with him. Although she'd never written one before, she was intrigued by Kinky Boots, a 2006 indie film based on the real story of a shoe-factory owner who teamed up with a drag artist to create sturdy but sexy drag boots for men. She says Fierstein was full of song titles, right from the start.

"Harvey called me up, he said, 'I want a song, "Sex is in the Heel"; I want a song, "The Most Beautiful Thing"; I want a song, "Not My Father's Son," ' " Lauper says. "And I was like, 'Wow.' "

Fierstein, who also wrote the script for the musical version of La Cage aux Folles, took Lauper under his wing — he affectionately refers to her as "my daughter" — and taught her about writing songs for the stage.

"You know, her lessons were a lot of fun for me," Fierstein says. "Frustrating sometimes, but fun on the other hand. Like the first time I took a song of hers and I stopped the song and put the scene in the middle of it and then they kept singing and then more scene. And she said, 'What the hell are you doing? What are you doing to my song? Let them sing the g- - - - -n song!'

"I said, 'It's not the way it works,' " Fierstein says. " 'You wouldn't do that to Rodgers and Hammerstein!' [she said]. And I said, 'Well, you actually would.' And I showed her some examples — I think, 'Some Enchanted Evening,' which has a scene in the middle of it. And she said, 'Oh, I didn't notice.' And I said, 'Exactly. When it's done right, you will never notice.' "

Lauper says she realized that writing theater songs and writing pop songs had a lot in common.

"You need to be economical; you have to say something simply," Lauper says. "I believe you still can have poetry. Now, Harvey believes it has to be in the most stupid, simple terms, but I think he believes in poetry!"

At its heart, Kinky Boots, which opens April 4 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, is a bromance between the strait-laced factory owner Charlie and the flamboyant drag queen Lola. They learn to accept each other — and themselves — through their friendship.

"You know, it's really about these two guys who at first glance are completely different, but underneath have so much in common," says Stark Sands, who plays Charlie.

Director Jerry Mitchell says the experiences of Charlie and Lola — while very specific — are universal, too.

"I don't think there's anyone who doesn't go through some sort of realization, in their life, as [they're] becoming an adult, how you measured up in your father's eyes, for better or for worse," Mitchell says. "And that has real resonance."

Lauper tapped into that feeling with the first-act ballad "I'm Not My Father's Son." She says she wrote it while walking on the track in her gym one morning.

"And I just started singing, you know, 'I'm not my father's son,' " Lauper says. "And I thought that was so sad. And I thought, 'I'm not the image of what he dreamed of / With the strength of Sparta,' 'cuz I kept watching these little boys in hockey — they looked like little Spartans, you know. 'And the patience of Job,' because my husband has the patience of Job."

Porter, who as Lola gets to wear 6-inch heels and gorgeous frocks and dance with a chorus of drag queens, says Kinky Boots may surprise some people.

"It masquerades as a big, splashy musical," Porter says. "But, actually, it's a really small, intimate story that just happens to have these fabulous numbers."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's go to Broadway, shall we, to hear about a much anticipated premier. "Kinky Boots," a quirky independent British film, has been turned in a quirky but splashy new Broadway musical. The score is written by 80s pop icon, Cyndi Lauper.

Jeff Lunden has the story.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: If you ask Billy Porter, one of the lead actors in "Kinky Boots," what the show is about, he's got a succinct answer.

BILLY PORTER: It's about two people who have daddy issues. And one of them just happens to wear a dress.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEX IS IN THE HEEL")

PORTER: (as Lola) (Singing) Mm-mm., yeah...

LUNDEN: Porter would be the one that wears the dress. He plays Lola, a fabulous drag queen, who inadvertently helps save a failing shoe factory in the English Midlands. And he gets to sing fabulous songs by Cyndi Lauper.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEX IS IN THE HEEL")

PORTER: (as Lola) (Singing) The sex is in the heels. Even if you break it, the sex is in the heels. Honey, you can't fake it. Jack it up 'cause I'm no flat tire. Mack it up six inches higher. The sex is in the heel so just embrace it...

LUNDEN: Over four years ago, Cyndi Lauper was asked by her good friend, Harvey Fierstein, if she'd like to write a musical with him. Although she'd never written one before, she was intrigued by "Kinky Boots," based on the real story of a shoe factory owner who teams up with a drag artist to create sturdy, but sexy drag boots for men. She says Harvey Fierstein was full of song titles, right from the start.

CYNDI LAUPER: Harvey called me up, he said: I want a song "Sex is in the Heel." I want a song "The Most Beautiful Thing." I want a song "Not My Father's Son." And I was like, wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEX IS IN THE HEEL")

PORTER: (as Lola) (Singing) The sex is the appeal. Kinky boys can shake it...

LUNDEN: Fierstein, who also wrote the script for the musical version of "La Cage aux Folles," took Lauper under his wing - he affectionately refers to her as my daughter - and taught her about writing songs for the stage.

HARVEY FIERSTEIN: You know, her lessons were a lot of fun for me - frustrating sometimes, but fun on the other hand. Like, the first time I took a song of hers and I stopped the song and put the scene in the middle of it, and then they kept singing, and then more scene. And she said, what the hell are you doing? What are you doing to my song? Let them sing the (bleep) song.

I said it's not the way it works. You wouldn't do that to Rodgers and Hammerstein. And I said, well, you actually would, right? And I showed her, you know, some example, I said "Some Enchanted Evening," which has a scene in the middle of it. And she said, oh, I didn't notice. And I said exactly. When it's done right, you will never notice.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAGE PLAY, "KINKY BOOTS")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Welcome to Our Future, no longer are we making shoes. We are making two and a half feet of irresistible, tubular sex. So let's do it.

(Singing) I punch the holes.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) I sew the seams.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) And I pull the leather tight.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Singing) I put the steel inside the heel.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Now we go off like dynamite.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Singing) Can you picture this, a glamorous fashion exhibition?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Singing) I see flash, strobe lights and fashion heights.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) I see press and television.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) let me hear you say yeah, yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Yeah, yeah...

LUNDEN: Cyndi Lauper says she realized that writing theater songs and writing pop songs had a lot in common.

LAUPER: You need to be economical. You have to say something simply. I believe you still can have poetry. Now, Harvey believes it has to be in the most stupid, simple terms, but I think he believes in poetry.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STEP ONE")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (Singing) This is step one. This is step one. Who knew I had it in me. Let begin and see where this can go. I've got knowledge and know-how. Don't stop the show now. Don't stop the flow...

LUNDEN: At its heart, "Kinky Boots" is a bromance between the straight-laced factory owner, Charlie, and the flamboyant drag queen, Lola. They learn to accept each other and themselves through their friendship. Stark Sands plays Charlie.

STARK SANDS: You know, it's really about these two guys who, at first glance, are completely different, but underneath have so much in common.

LUNDEN: The show's director, Jerry Mitchell, says the experiences of Charlie and Lola - while very specific - are universal.

JERRY MITCHELL: I don't think there's anyone who doesn't go through some sort of realization, in their life, as becoming an adult, how you measured up in your father's eyes, for better or for worse. And that has real resonance.

LUNDEN: Cyndi Lauper tapped into that feeling with the first act ballad, "I'm Not My Father's Son." She says she wrote it, while walking on the track in her gym one morning.

LAUPER: And I just started singing, you know (Singing) I'm not my father's son. And I thought that was so sad. And I thought (Singing) I'm not the image of what he dreamed of.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M NOT MY FATHER'S SON")

PORTER: (As Lola) (Singing) ...of what he dreamed of with the strength of Sparta and the patience of Job. Still couldn't be the one to echo what he'd done and mirror what was not in me...

LUNDEN: Billy Porter, who as Lola gets to wear six inch heels, gorgeous frocks and dance with a chorus of drag queens, says "Kinky Boots" may surprise some people.

PORTER: It masquerades as a big, splashy Broadway musical. But, actually, it's a really small, intimate story that just happens to have these fabulous numbers.

LUNDEN: "Kinky Boots" opens at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on Broadway tonight.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVERYBODY SAY YEAH")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) Now if you are with us, let's go-oh-oh-oh-oh...

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Go-oh-oh-oh-oh...

GREENE: This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.