'Kinky Boots' stars Billy Porter and Stark Sands: Broadway's new dynamic duo

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Image Credit: Matthew Murphy

With a score by Cyndi Lauper and a book crafted by Harvey Fierstein, Kinky Boots seemed designed in a lab to be a Broadway smash. And in fact, it has lived up to that billing: Last week, it topped over $1 million in receipts, joining some rare company on the current theater landscape.

The music is exceptional, but a healthy portion of the show’s success has rested on the shoulders of the two leads, whose performance prowess and on-stage chemistry have made them into Broadway’s best new duo.

“The director said, ‘I’d like you to be in this musical, and Cyndi Lauper is writing the music and Harvey Fierstein is writing the book.’ You don’t really think twice about that. You hear those names, and you say yes,” Stark Sands, who plays shoe factory owner Charlie Price, told EW. “I didn’t really even look at the script. When I heard who was involved, I knew it would be good.”

Sands has been able to carry the show alongside Billy Porter, who plays the brash, idealistic drag queen Lola. Over the course of the show, the two of them recognize a strength in one another, best expressed in a centerpiece duet that bares both characters’ complicated relationships with their dads.

“I love them all, but the centerpiece for me is ‘I’m Not My Father’s Son,'” Porter told EW. “Lola at the beginning of the show masquerades as what I was pigeonholed to be. Then all of a sudden it completely drops in. It’s interesting to sense the audience go, ‘Oh, wait a minute, Lola’s not just a clown. Lola is a human being, and now we’re all required to experience her as a human being.’ ‘I’m Not My Father’s Son’ is the pinnacle of that, and it allows me to express that side of the character and also that side of myself.”

And though Kinky Boots took its time in development, “I’m Not My Father’s Son” benefitted from some good old fashioned theater magic. “We were blocking for the first time back in September, and our director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell always has a clear idea in his head. But for that song, he said, ‘I just want to see what you do. Move when you feel like moving, sit, stand, whatever, and we’ll see where it goes.’ And the way we did it the first time hasn’t changed,” Sands said. “When it was over, Jerry said, ‘I don’t want to change it.’ Emotionally, Billy and I have gotten deeper into it, and we have a deeper understanding of where the song sits in the show, but that’s one of the pieces in this play that Jerry has kept his hands off because it’s so natural and simple. It’s mostly just piano and voice, and it’s just so beautiful. It’s touching. You don’t need any glitz.”

Both Sands and Porter came into Kinky Boots huge Cyndi Lauper fans, which has served their performances well. “I’m a huge fan of ’80s music,” Sands said. “My wife and I had an ’80s cover band play at our wedding, so we are big fans of Cyndi’s. There are shades of her songs all over the place. You can hear the influences, and she’s so brilliant, and she knows music so well. There are so many artists who just get paired with producers and songwriters and do what they’re told, and Cyndi isn’t that person. She’s always carved her own path. She knows what she wants, and she gets it, and that’s why she is so legendary.”

Perhaps the only Lauper fan in the cast bigger than Sands is Porter. “I get to sing real true pop music written by one of the formidable songwriters of our time when it comes to really truly authentic sounding pop music,” Porter said. “When you hear something like ‘I’m Not My Father’s Son,’ it’s on par with ‘True Colors’ or ‘Time After Time.’ The imagery in that song, ‘With the strength of Sparta and the patience of Job’—who writes that in a pop song? Who references those things in a pop song? That’s what I love about it, and I’m glad people are receiving it that way, because it’s a pretty brilliant score.”

Read More on EW.com:
Broadway Review: Kinky Boots
Broadway Review: Motown the Musical
Broadway Review: Matilda the Musical

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