Q: In this era of safe Broadway musicals that are based on an existing movie title, or the catalog of a popular band’s songs, how do you think Kinky Boots broke through and rose to the top of the theatre world?
A: I think the answer is kind of a simple one. It’s because the show has a huge heart, and people respond to that. It’s a story about love and acceptance and friendship and overcoming obstacles and everyone can relate to that. Harvey Fierstein is one of Broadway’s great talents and the book is so very very good. It was an honor to collaborate with Harvey and tell the story of Lola and Charlie.
Q: Can you describe that moment when your name was announced and you won the Tony Award?
A: Incredible. Simply incredible. The Broadway community is an amazing one and to be welcomed the way they welcomed me to this very special family is something that still warms my spirit.
Q: You join rock artists like Neil Young, Duncan Sheik, Sting and the Flaming Lips who have made the crossover into Broadway, not by capitalizing on their existing songbooks but by writing original musicals for the theater. Two questions:
- How is writing for the stage different from writing songs for yourself?
A: It’s very different. Your job as the composer of a musical is to move the story forward with the songs. You have to write for many voices and from all the characters’ perspectives. And I had a blast doing that. There were songs that I wrote that I really loved that didn’t make the show because maybe there was a change in the book or there was a different arch for a character and the story and therefore the song had to change. For my own CDs, when I write a song that I love, it makes my records! LOL! And of course when I write for myself, I’m writing from my perspective, it’s the story I am trying to tell through the songs on the album to my fans.
- Can you name two or three other artists form the rock world you would most love to see write for the Broadway stage?
A: I am thrilled to see two of my favorites – David Byrne and Carole King – with shows on Broadway. I would love to see Cher, Price and Joni Mitchell with shows on Broadway.
Q: Of all your wonderful and timeless songs over your career, it appears that True Colors has really grown in stature over the years, becoming a kind of anthem of hope for today’s youth. How does that make you feel, and can you tell us a little about what that song means to you?
A: When I recorded that song a very good friend of mine was dying from AIDS. He had a horrific childhood. He had been abused. The main reason he was abused was because he was gay. He became homeless really young. When he was dying he asked me to record a song so that he would not be forgotten. He was a beautiful person. A really kind and gentle soul who was told from a very early age that he was no good. That who he was as a person was not acceptable. And that just wasn’t true. So I sang the song for Gregory and for everyone who has been rejected for being who they are or for anyone who feels unloved. I think that it still resonates today because unfortunately we still have bias and we still have bullying. Maybe we have even more bullying because people can be cruel behind a computer instead of having the balls to say something ugly to someone’s face. We still have hatred and that is sad because I would have thought that by 2014 people would have evolved. Because we live in the digital age the world has gotten smaller. Ya think that would have made us more open and accepting. If we all could just accept each other for who we are the world would be a beautiful place! (That’s also the message of Kinky Boots!)
Q: Live theatre historically struggles for a young audience. Two questions:
- Why does Kinky Boots buck the trend?
A: I tried really hard to write songs that could also live outside of the theater, ya know? Before radio, Broadway music was popular music. People bought sheet music and played the music at home with their families. Basically Broadway was Top 40, and I really tried hard to honor that tradition with Kinky Boots by writing songs that people would want to listen to at home after leaving the theater or without even seeing the show.
- What do you think is essential for new musicals today to capture the hearts of young theatregoers?
A: If young people don’t discover Broadway, then Broadway will die with the generation that grew up with Broadway and that would be a tragedy. So it’s important that Broadway musicals and plays are written to live in the modern world.
Q: Your life changed seemingly overnight in 1983. What do you think would have become of you if She’s So Unusual had never been released?
A: I didn’t really change overnight. I had been in bands and gigging since I was 20. My band Blue Angel got signed to Polydor when I was 27 and we had some moderate success. We also had done some pretty big tours both in the US and in Europe. And I loved those guys and I loved that band. We were doing rockabilly and we might have been a bit before our time. The Straycats came out years later and really brought that genre out to the forefront again.
I signed my solo deal with Portrait at 29 and the album came out when I was 30. And unlike when you are in a band, I was able to really fully become the artist I wanted to be. It was all my vision, what I wanted to say, how I wanted to say it, what I wanted to look like, and that was so empowering. And of course to have 5 hit singles off of that album was just unbelievable. I don’t know what would have become of me but I would definitely sing and I would definitely write songs. One of the jobs I had in the beginning of my career was singing at a Japanese piano bar in NYC. Maybe I would have went back there and asked for my job back.
Q: How does it feel to be thought of as a musical – and fashion – role model for the likes of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj?
A: They are all great artists. If they look to me as a role model then I am flattered. I think as women we all need to be able to see another woman doing what we dream of doing to know that it’s possible. There are so many women who I looked to for inspiration – Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell and Cher – all of these women who came before me to help light the path, and if I paid that gift forward that makes me feel really good.
Q: What do you want audiences throughout the country to know about what they are in for if they come to see Kinky Boots?
A: An amazing show with great heart that will lift you up.
Original interview conducted by John Moore, The Denver Center for the Performing Arts Journalist.
Kinky Boots at the Shubert New Haven now thru June 12th.
Purchase tickets at www.shubert.com