Most folks likely picture funky, indescribable hair and outrageous and eclectic outfits when hearing the name Cyndi Lauper. It's likely few imagine a Grammy, Emmy and Tony-winning artist, author and composer of the Tony Award-winning musical “Kinky Boots,” which opens at the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City on Tuesday.
Lauper teamed up with book writer Harvey Fierstein in 2013 and went on to receive 13 Tony nominations, winning six, including best musical and best score for Lauper, according to tonyawards.com.
“Kinky Boots” is a musical adaptation of the 2005 cult film of the same name. Based on true events, Charlie Price learns he’s inherited his father’s shoe factory. Charlie struggles to keep the factory alive and, with the help of a drag performer named Lola, discovers a niche market: making high-heeled boots for drag queens. Described on the musical's website as "a celebration of the best in all of us — the challenges that shape our journey, the joys that keep us going and the shoes that lift us up along the way," it's also a story that allows its cast to have a lot of fun.
“It’s like an actual rock concert,” Curt Hansen, who plays Charlie in the touring production, wrote in an email. “The score is a beast to sing, but I get so excited to sing it every night and experience it with the crowd. The band is incredible! Anytime I get to sing rock ’n’ roll with a live band is a good day for me.”
The score is more than just rock ’n’ roll; its songs run the gamut from pop to show tune ballads to, yes, a bit of rock ’n’ roll.
“These are the most challenging songs I’ve had to sing in my career to date,” Hansen said.
That is saying something since the young actor has sung in other showstoppers such as “Wicked,” “Hairspray” and “Next to Normal,” all requiring a large, powerful range.
“These songs are also the most rewarding to sing,” he added. “It’s invigorating standing on stage by myself and (to) be able to sing music written with such passion. It also allows me to show off my range as a singer because it’s not often that male singers get to sing songs that are so high.”
Hansen saw the musical in New York prior to auditioning.
“After it was over I said, ‘I have to play that part. I have to be Charlie Price!’” he said.
The press materials emphasize that “Kinky Boots” is not about drag queens. Rather, the show is about how Charlie and Lola work together to save the factory, reconcile their differences and their past relationships with their fathers and realize they have more in common than they thought. Lola’s “Angels” (her groups of drag queen friends and performers) add sparkle along the way.
“I was so ecstatic to get the opportunity to play this part on tour all over the country,” said Hansen, who grew up doing community theater in Wisconsin. “I started college as a pre-med major, but after a semester, I transferred to theater school. A year and a half later, I got incredibly lucky and I was in my first Broadway show, 'Hairspray,' alongside the book writer of 'Kinky Boots,' Harvey Fierstein.”
On top of an unlikely true story, an unlikely composing team and unlikely journey to the Broadway stage for Hansen, he said there is one more unlikely element to this production.
“The other unlikely thing is just me wearing heels,” Hansen said. “I definitely have a new-found respect for my wife and all heel-wearing people across the globe.”
Content advisory: "Kinky Boots" does not contain any violence or objectionable language but does portray drag queens performing in costume, some of which are revealing.
If you go
What: "Kinky Boots" national tour
Where: Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main, Salt Lake City
When: Jan. 17-22, times vary, matinees available
How much: $30-$90
Erica Hansen was the theater editor at the Deseret News for more than three years. An area performer, she was also the original host of the radio program "Showtune Saturday Night."