Phoenix Theatre presents the kaleidoscopic Kinky Boots

Stark Sands, Billy Porter in the Broadway production of Kinky Boots. Photo by Sean Williams.

By Seth Reines, September 2019 Issue.

Long before RuPaul’s Drag Race took the world by storm, Broadway has been making strides in LGBTQ inclusion and representation. From Edna Turnblad in Hairspray and Zaza in La Cage Aux Folles to Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Angel in Rent, drag characters have become a staple of the Broadway musical theater.

August 28-October 13, Lola, one of Broadway’s most recent drag heroines, takes center stage in Phoenix Theatre’s regional premiere of Kinky Boots. Lola, rejected by her father for her lifestyle, laments, “the best part of me, is what he wouldn’t see.” But, staying true to herself, Lola’s passionate stand on trans issues, drag, and gender roles make her a role model for LGBTQ adolescents and audiences around the world.

A book by Harvey Fierstein with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, the six-time Tony Award-winning musical has a potent message: “Change your mind about someone, you can change your whole world.”

Echo recently spoke with PT’s Kinky Boots director Pasha Yamotahari, costume designer Cari Smith, and wig/make-up designer Kelly Yurko.

Pasha in PT’s In the Heights.

Echo: Pasha, why is Kinky Boots so resonant in today’s socio-political climate?

Pasha: There are so many pertinent subjects and issues tackled by the various characters in Kinky Boots. It would be a trap to treat this exhilarating piece of musical theater as just fanfare … these are real people struggling not only to work to make ends meet but a kaleidoscope of beautiful people who often, in the expression of who they truly are and what they believe in, are met with equally strong convicted people who fight them in every possible way to convince them they’re wrong. This fine balance of two different worlds creates such passionate and powerful conflicts that sway closely to the ever-present worldwide conflicts we witness every day on our streets and communities regardless of our geographic location.

Echo:  What does Kinky Boots mean to you personally?

Pasha: I’m drawn to the sacrifices we often make in our lives to hide our deepest wants, desires, and needs. That inner struggle in all of us to fight for who we want to be whilst appreciating and understanding who we really are and where we really came from. Kinky also speaks highly for me about how our commitment and loyalty to family, friends, lovers and even occupations sometimes can derail us from our inner dreams and how it can silence our wills. We mustn’t give up on our dreams solely on our own inner-belief that we are tied entirely to our responsibilities. Dreams can and often do come true … if we keep our dreams alive and trust that the people who we are committed to and are loyal to will support us in our journey to their realizations.

Echo: Cari, as PT’s Kinky Boots costume designer, what attracted you to the project? 

Cari:  Drag performers are the perfect canvas for glamour and rhinestones. While I have costumed a few drag characters in shows before, Kinky Boots will be my first venture into featuring and honoring drag culture and fashion.

Echo:How will your designs for PT’s production differ from the Broadway originals? 

Cari: I didn’t want to recreate the Broadway show but I did want to honor the British feel of the show. So I brainstormed British iconography from queens, musicians, and actresses to footballers and cricket. Those images became the inspiration for my designs. Also, as I wanted to address Lola as a non-binary character, I played with combining masculine and feminine shapes, colors and design elements.

Darius Harper, Phoenix Theatre’s Lola

Echo: Kelly, how did you approach your wig/make-up design for Kinky Boots?

Kelly: For Lola and the Angels, I started by looking at pictures of many different drag queens from all different parts of the world and as many different types of drag queens I could find. In my 25-year career as a costume/wig designer, I have designed drag characters for theater pieces before, but never for a professional drag artist. From my understanding, designing and applying the makeup and wig(s) is part of the process for the drag performer as they create the drag persona.

Echo: Pasha, how will your Kinky Boots differ from the original Broadway staging and intent?

Pasha: I spent some time in the UK this summer and visited some smaller industrial towns and was inspired to make sure that our production, in every facet, whether in its design, sound, movement, in every facet, ours will be gritty and bite at the audience with its wonderful music, story, and cathartic elements.

Kinky Boots on Broadway.

For tickets to Phoenix Theatre’s production of Kinky Boots, visit phoenixtheatre.com.