Tony-winning musical ‘Kinky Boots’ launches national tour at The Smith Center

These “Boots” are made for dancing. And hitting the road.

But the “Kinky Boots” of the Tony-winning musical — which launches a yearlong national tour Thursday at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts — are also made for leading people back to Vegas.

People like Steven Booth, the UNLV alumnus — and veteran of Wynn Las Vegas’ short-lived “Avenue Q” — who’s playing Charlie, one of “Kinky Boots’ ” leading roles.

Or director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell, whose Vegas credits include Planet Hollywood Resort’s now-closed “Peepshow.” To say nothing of another Tony-winning musical, “Hairspray,” which played the Luxor.

“Hairspray” starred, among others, Harvey Fierstein — who adapted “Kinky Boots” for the stage. And among Luxor’s “Hairspray” producers: none other than Smith Center president Myron Martin.

Martin’s “Hairspray” connections with Mitchell and Fierstein didn’t seal the deal for the show to launch its national tour from The Smith Center, he acknowledges.

But they didn’t hurt, either.

“I don’t want to overstate any of this,” Martin says, “but I did let Harvey and Jerry know” — along with “Kinky Boots’ ” agents — that The Smith Center was “prepared to launch a national tour.”

And when representatives told Mitchell about “all the possibilities” regarding “Kinky Boots’ ” first road stop, and mentioned The Smith Center, Mitchell’s response was an enthusiastic “ ‘Oh my God, we have to go there,’ ” Mitchell says in a separate interview.

“The stars aligned — and we got our wish,” Martin says. “It’s a great, great fit.”

After all, Mitchell adds, “you say your show’s opening in Vegas, and you don’t have any trouble getting people to come.”

Not to a musical that captured six Tonys — including awards for best musical, Mitchell’s choreography and rocker Cyndi Lauper’s score — and recouped its investment faster than any other recent big-budget Broadway musical.

Like many other recent Broadway hits, “Kinky Boots” was originally a movie — a 2005, fact-based British comedy starring Chiwetel Ejiofor. (If that name sounds familiar, it should: Ejiofor’s subsequent roles include Solomon Northup, the embattled protagonist of the Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave.”)

But “it isn’t a pre-sold title,” Mitchell says of “Kinky Boots,” describing it as “so not ‘Peepshow.’ ”

Indeed, “that’s part of the challenge,” he adds, “to make the general population” understand that “you’re not going to see girls running around naked in thigh-high boots. It’s about something much more.”

That “much more” involves “an emotional element to this story that’s surprising,” according to the director-choreographer. As with all musicals, “I love the beat and I love the energy,” but “Kinky Boots” also boasts “a really heartfelt story.”

That story focuses on two characters who “could not be more different” yet discover “they have so much in common,” explains Booth, a 2004 graduate of UNLV’s theater program.

In “Kinky Boots,” Booth plays Charlie Price, reluctant heir to his family’s teetering-on-bankruptcy shoe factory. He hasn’t a clue about how he’s going to reverse its fading fortunes. Not that he has much interest in doing so anyway.

That is, until he meets dynamic drag queen Lola (played by Kyle Taylor Parker), a self-described “potpourri of contradiction” who’s desperate for some sturdy stiletto heels — and helps Charlie transform the factory into the home of “Kinky Boots.”

As they try to save the business, however, Charlie and Lola learn they share an even deeper bond: They’re both sons trying to reconcile past, sometimes painful relationships with their fathers. As they sing, first separately and then together, “I’m not my father’s son, I’m not the image of what he dreamed of … still couldn’t be the one to echo what he’d done and mirror what was not in me.”

That message definitely hits home with Parker, who’s finally taking over the lead after being with “Kinky Boots” from the beginning, as one of Lola’s fellow drag queens, the Angels, in the show’s Chicago debut and its subsequent Broadway run. (He also served as understudy for the role of Lola, portraying the character several times on Broadway.)

“I have a very interesting relationship with my father,” Parker notes, “and that’s what stuck with me” about the show — along with “the friendship that exists between two unlikely friends.”

In adapting the movie for the stage, Fierstein “captured the film and has taken it to another place,” Mitchell says.

And, with Fierstein’s guidance, Lauper — a musical theater neophyte — learned “what a song might be able to do” in a dramatic context, the director explains. “She was so willing to listen and then go and write.” (And, in some cases, rewrite, turning nine cut songs into five that stayed in the show.)

In the process, Lauper learned that “musicals are tough,” Mitchell says. “They’re just tough,” despite the fact “you have to make it look effortless.”

You also have to make it your own — and both Booth and Parker say they’re grateful for the opportunity to discover and explore their characters in rehearsal.

“I’ve been a part of situations where you are just being put in a mold,” Booth says. But while the musical’s creators may “know what works and they’ve done it,” they’re still “letting us play and find our own way.”

“It’s exciting to put my own spin on it,” Parker adds. “It’s easy, in musical theater, to get big and showy and bubble-gummy, but to play a real person, with real feelings, helps you shift your artistry.”

It also helps shape the show’s impact, in Mitchell’s view.

Following a character “who wants something,” where “you see the struggles and you see the triumphs,” gives any musical an automatic rooting interest, “if you can get the audience locked into that.”

In many musicals, it’s a romantic “boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl” formula.

In “Kinky Boots,” however, it’s a more expansive experience, involving Charlie and Lola — and, by extension, everyone else.

To quote one of Lauper’s lyrics, “Change the world when you change your mind.”

Mitchell puts it another way.

“When I see a musical, I want to walk out singing the songs and feeling happier than when I walked in,” he says. “And I think ‘Kinky Boots’ does that.”

Contact reporter Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.

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