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'Kinky Boots' at Live Arts already selling out ahead of premiere

A musical that needs multiple choreographers might be just what you need to put a little spring in your step.

When “Kinky Boots” opens Friday at Live Arts, a variety of Charlottesville performing communities will team up to tell the story of a failing shoe factory, the tense town that depends on it and a new base of fabulous customers that might save the day. Can pivoting to create showstopping boots for drag performers keep a workforce on the job and build a united community along the way?

The stakes are as high as the heels, and “the road to allyship is literally walking in someone else’s shoes,” said director Jude Hansen.

The musical, which runs through March 10 in Live Arts’ Gibson Theater, tells a musical story of supply, demand and community through a book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper.

“It’s such an uplifting, joyous show,” Hansen said.

The cast includes Paulius Sinkora as Charlie, Xavier Taylor as Lola/Simon, Liberty DeLeon as Lauren, Katie Rogers as Nicola, Kirk Martini as Don, Marty Moore as Trish, Christina Henderson Paxson as Pat and James Sanford as George.

Pearl Oliver and “Ellie” Elizabeth Bennett will alternate in the role of Young Lola/Simon, and Nathaniel Sclialla and Calvin Kaufman will alternate in the role of Young Charlie.

Look for Jack Scharrer, Lyra McKee, Jackson Davis and Benedict Burgess as the Angels and Kelly Carney, Darryl Smith, Paige Campbell Johns, Julia Mathas, Sophie Clayton and Jacob Walton as the Ensemble.

Hansen said Sinkora, a soloist for the Oratorio Society of Virginia and a church organist, is “absolutely fabulous in the role” of Charlie, who inherits a bespoke shoe factory with a shaky future. If the factory fails, the resulting ripples will threaten a range of specialized leather businesses and a highly trained workforce known for its leatherwork.

“They’ve done shoemaking their entire lives, and even three generations back,” Hansen said. “It really raises the stakes when the whole industry is being pulled out from under your feet.”

Taylor’s Lola needs to be convincing as both a boxer and a drag queen, and Hansen said he nails the singing and dancing demands. Taylor also amazed his teammates by teaching himself to do his own drag makeup.

“That was certainly a wow moment when he emerged for the first time in makeup as Lola,” the director said.

Abby Smith is musical director. Creating the choreography are Juanita Wilson, Sophie Clayton and Ashton Neal, who have to prepare different teams of cast members for a carefully coordinated series of dances that honor the musical’s origins in film.

“It is an adaptation of a film that was based on the true story, but the core of the story is still there,” Hansen said. “There are so many jump cuts.”

Having as many as six separate scenes within a number “creates a lot of challenges in rehearsing.” he said.

Wes Wyse and Kelsey Dowling are production stage managers, and Virginia Coldren is assistant director and dramaturge. Will Slusher is scenic designer; Joshua Reid, assisted by Etta Feigert, is lighting designer. Chase Carson is sound designer and engineer. Anna Stockdale is costume designer, Erik Mayes handles costume and makeup design and Morgan Hall leads properties design.

Daniel Kunkel is fight choreographer, Laura Rikard is intimacy consultant, Thea Trickality is drag consultant and Andrew Bryce is the dialect coach.

“We have a chorus of all-singing, all-dancing angels-slash-drag performers,” Hansen said. With so many specialized costumes needed, “we actually have a whole costume team, and not just focusing on footwear. It has been quite a process to get these outfits together. When you have a whole collection of drag queens, you have a need for wig caps and bobby pins and stuffing and tights.”

Everyone on the “Kinky Boots” team is stretching and growing, and that includes the director.

“We have some really amazing young performers,” Hansen said. “I’ve never worked with children before, and the young cast members we have are fabulous.”

Hansen said it’s moving to see how much cast members want each other to succeed. Whether it’s hitting a high note or nailing a dance combination, “the community of the cast has seen members who thought they could not do something succeed at it.”

Cast members and characters alike end up taking a look at how much they have grown and changed. “It’s important to take stock and look back at your own growth” and recognize what it took to get there, Hansen said.

Different “Kinky Boots” characters “accept Lola at a different pace,” Hansen said. “It’s hard to face that part of yourself who wasn’t so understanding. Let’s not be polite about it: this is an ugly moment. But it’s through that ugliness that this journey must go.”

Audience members may feel at times as if they’re part of the proceedings, which pleases Hansen. A set featuring audience seating on two sides and a diagonal runway helps ground the audience in the musical’s world.

“In this show, I’m kind of casting the audience as factory workers,” he said.

The show can prompt people to reconsider prejudices about drag performers and realize that being an ally requires more than mere talk.

“Charlie realizes, ‘To be a good ally, I have to listen.’ He has to stop and allow others to have a voice and breathe and contribute.”

“It’s really powerful that we’re doing this show at a time when our young people are being attacked for what they choose to wear,” Hansen said.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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