NEW YORK (Reuters) - Take an obscure British film about a failing shoe factory, hand it over to openly gay actor and writer Harvey Fierstein, add music by pop star Cyndi Lauper and what have you got?
It is the new Broadway musical “Kinky Boots,” which aims to make drag safe and commercially viable for the masses, while offering life lessons on love and self-acceptance along the way.
With a mantle full of Tony awards for hit shows such as “La Cage aux Folles,” “Torch Song Trilogy” and “Hairspray,” Fierstein embraced the opportunity to take the story to the stage.
In “Kinky Boots,” opening on Friday, the reluctant owner of a failing shoe factory teams up with a force-of-nature drag queen to save the business. The owner comes up with an unlikely plan to produce outrageous thigh-high spike-heeled boots that can withstand a man’s heft, meeting resistance from the English working-class laborers.
“It’s very human,” Fierstein told Reuters about his adaptation of the 2005 British film of the same name.
“It’s not about saving a factory, it’s not about making shoes. It’s about accepting yourself, and healing the wounds in ourselves,” said Fierstein.
One of the first openly gay performers to conquer Broadway, starting with 1982’s semi-autobiographical “Torch Song Trilogy” about a drag artist, he won Tonys for best play and best actor.
When it came time to find someone to write the songs that would bring the small story of a struggling provincial shoe factory in England to singing-and-dancing life on stage, Fierstein turned to his friend, Lauper, although she had never written a Broadway tune, let alone an entire show.
“Most composers care about their own sound - they want things to sound like them, and that’s not really good for theater, if everybody sounds the same,” Fierstein said.
“But with Cyndi, her ego never got involved in that way. Her ego only got involved in terms of, was this good enough. And there was no learning curve at all, she jumped right in.”
“It’s the story that grabbed me,” said Lauper, who had been asked to write shows before. “That’s what has to make you spend 4 1/2 years working, busting your butt, for a story that’s worth telling, and this story is important to tell, and timely.”
Lauper, best known for 1980s pop anthems such as ”She Bop“ and ”Girls Just Want To Have Fun,“ and ballads like ”Time After Time,“ said she was given free rein to ”be able to write music, and basically told, ‘Let yourself go, write write write’ - so I did. And it was very freeing.
“It was very exciting because I wrote all kinds of music. Every character has a different rhythm of speech, and here was a great opportunity to put that into motion and make every character have their own style of music. How often is that?”
Lauper, Fierstein and “Kinky Boots” director Jerry Mitchell have spent years working to support the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community and for the public to accept people for who they are.
Lauper, busier than ever on the cusp of age 60 with the musical, an autobiography and a reality TV show all overlapping in recent years, was undaunted entering what for her was a new realm.
“You had to propel the story, but every single song has a story to it, a beginning a middle and an end. It was almost easier (than writing an album) - you don’t have to dig inside your own world. The world was in front of you and you need to help explain where the person is, and where they’re going. And I thought, ‘Wow, that’s really fun.'”
Years spent wearing out her mother’s Broadway albums helped.
”I learned how to sing listening to Broadway shows on vinyl,“ she said. ”I learned how to sing listening to all those different characters, and becoming all those characters.
“So when it came time to write for all of these different characters, I was all of them. I had to be.”
Editing by Jill Serjeant and Peter Cooney