Changing the World by Changing Minds

Timothy Ware as Lola in “Kinky Boots.” (Courtesy Photo)

By Remy Sisk  |  Arts & Entertainment

“Kinky Boots” is a show unlike any other. Sure, there are shows with quirky stories and characters, and musicals with pop/rock scores that make going to the theatre feel like a contemporary concert. But “Kinky Boots,” which chronicles a drag queen working to help a young man save his family’s dying shoe factory, is a wholly unique production that’s not only astoundingly entertaining but also inspiring in a way that encourages acceptance, love and individuality.

The show is based on a 2005 British film of the same name and opened on Broadway in 2013 with a book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper. Completely unusual in a multitude of ways, the show faced heavy skepticism as it prepared to make its debut. The skeptics, of course, were totally upended as the show was – and still is – a massive success, having won six Tony Awards, including best musical, and seeing several international productions and a U.S. tour, which will conclude when the show plays The Kentucky Center’s Whitney Hall June 13-18.

The story centers on Charlie Price, who, after his father dies, is charged with reviving his family’s failing shoe factory. Through coincidence, Charlie meets Lola, a fabulous drag queen who gives him the inspiration he needs to succeed. The two work closely together, and through extraordinary musical numbers, engaging dialogue and fine-tuned characters, Lola teaches Charlie and others that when they change their minds, they change the world.

Timothy Ware was a standby for Lola in the Broadway company and is currently playing the role in the tour, amounting to a total of four years with the show. Getting into the headspace of Lola, a character so armed with confidence, ferocity, compassion and heartache isn’t exactly easy, but for Ware, it’s the function of this character that helps him so earnestly prepare and become Lola. “I’ve been doing this role for a long time,” Ware says in his dressing room in Indianapolis speaking with The Voice-Tribune, “but I constantly discover something new about Lola because she evolves based on the day, the audience, the theatre, the city. And so there’s a slightly different take that I give to her at each performance – not a single performance is exactly the same. And she’s an important character – it’s a role that is about changing people’s perspectives of not only the world but their own perspective on themselves. You know, we say, ‘You change the world when you change your mind,’ and that’s kind of Lola’s purpose. This character that is not necessarily common in everyone’s everyday life – a drag queen – there to teach a life lesson to the common man, which is to just be who you are.”

Lola also brings increased visibility to LGBTQ individuals, and “Kinky Boots” in fact has an outreach program in the different cities it visits that brings at-risk LGBTQ youth to the production. And that aspect of providing comfort and identification is exceedingly significant to Ware, who sees the show and Lola as having a lasting power to change the minds of the audiences just as she does the characters. “The show has given a face, a reflection, someone that looks like them that they can relate to on the stage that makes them say, ‘Wow, OK it’s not just my story. There are other people who feel the way that I feel. I’m not alone in this journey,’” Ware says of LGBTQ youth who see the show. “And I’ve seen that a lot, a lot of kids who are transgender who now have the courage to step out into the world and say, ‘Hey, this is who I am.’ I’ve seen that with this show. I’ve seen the show bring fathers and sons together – dads who’ve had a hard time accepting their child. Something about this story has been a gateway to their heart to say, ‘Wow, maybe I should look at this in a different way.’”

Though the tour is closing, the show continues to run on Broadway, combining Fierstein’s witty script and Lauper’s upbeat and catchy music with an inspirational legacy that is affecting real change in the world. Ware, who grew up in religious Montgomery, Alabama, isn’t entirely certain about what the lasting impact of “Kinky Boots” will be, but he hopes it’s one that authentically brings people together.

“One of the lessons I do take from what I learned growing up is the greatest gift is love or charity – as they say – and, you know, the thought of loving your neighbors like you love yourself,” he says. “And I hope that’s what people leave with when they leave the show. It’s not up to you to understand each and every individual’s perspective or ideals or who they are – you don’t have to understand it to show empathy. You don’t have to like it, but you can still show respect. Even if I or someone else does not understand that, that doesn’t mean that there should not be a place for love or acceptance or even trying to get to understand that. Don’t sit in your fear and allow it to keep you away from something you don’t understand. Dive into it and try to gain some perspective other than your own. I’m hoping that’s what ‘Kinky Boots’ does and will continue to do.” VT

“Kinky Boots”

June 13-18

The Kentucky Center

kentuckycenter.org