From Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot to Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria and Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, playing a gender-switching character is not the career-ending move you might expect.
For Kenneth Mosley, who hits the stage in Albuquerque on Thursday, March 7, wearing red-sequined, high-heeled, thigh-high boots — the eponymous Kinky Boots of the Tony-winning musical — it is a way to enhance his résumé as a leading man.
“Beauty is a whole lot of work,” said Mosley, an Albuquerque native, who earned a degree in broadcast journalism from Southern Methodist University and began performing in Dallas before heading to New York. “It’s hard to sing in Spanx!” His last gig was playing Berry Gordy in a national tour of Motown The Musical. “Berry Gordy was all business. ... Lola is all love and light. She knows she’s a spectacle. She doesn’t take herself too seriously. Berry Gordy was in the background. Lola is out front all the time. She’s the polar opposite.
“I’m a leading man,” said Mosley, who has nine costume changes and a small army of dressers to get him in and out of his costumes. “I wanted to diversify my résumé.”
The national tour of Kinky Boots plays Popejoy Hall in Albuquerque through March 10.
Kinky Boots won six Tony awards in 2013, including Best Musical, Best Choreography for Jerry Mitchell (who also directed), and a Best Original Score award for pop singer-songwriter Cyndi Lauper. She was the first solo woman to win this honor. The show was based on a 2005 movie dramatizing the true story of a shoe factory owner in North England who decides to switch to a more rarified fashion niche — making reinforced heels for drag queens — to stay in business. The book for the musical was written by Harvey Fierstein, who wrote such gender-bending theater pieces as Torch Song Trilogy and La Cage Aux Folles, and won a Tony for playing a mountain of a woman named Edna Turnblad in Hairspray. The Broadway version of the Kinky Boots story, as rewritten by Fierstein, is all about acceptance. At its heart, it is a story of fathers and sons.
“It’s not about drag,” Mosley said. “This is a story about walking in your father’s shoes.”
In the musical, Charlie becomes the reluctant owner of a struggling shoe factory after his father’s sudden death. Faced with laying off people who had worked most of their lives in a business that is now failing, he heads to London to find money and unwittingly comes to the aid of Lola in a street fight. When he regains consciousness and spends time backstage at Lola’s drag show, he comes up with the idea to make better heels for men — at least, for those who choose to dress as women. Lola and her band of drag queens, the Angels, travel to Charlie’s factory in dreary industrial Northampton to save the day.
“Lola is not pushing female or male, homo or hetero. She may be a straight man who chooses to dress as a woman. We tend to draw lines in the sand which may not actually be there,” Mosley said. “Like most of us, Lola can’t be boxed in, given a label or a category. She’s complex.” Part of the story is also about Lola’s male persona, Simon, and his struggles with his own father. “Lola is not an image of what his father had in mind, but there’s an evolution, an element of acceptance between them. Lola respects her father’s views enough to say, ‘I see where you’re coming from, but I’m not that.’ ”
In order to become Lola, there was research involved. Mosley didn’t spend much time looking at drag queens. Instead, he watched YouTube videos of Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, and Madonna, and comic reruns of Carol Burnett, Isabel Sanford in The Jeffersons, and Phylicia Rashad on The Cosby Show.
“This show asks you what makes a person of quality. That is what really resonates with all kinds of people, all kinds of audiences. It’s everyone’s story,” Mosley said.
“Every single role I have been given has added another layer to my career,” he said, “but Lola — I can’t believe how much fun she is. Dancing in six-inch platform boots is definitely a stretch for me, but I love a challenge.” ◀
▼ Kinky Boots
▼ 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 7, and Friday, March 8; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, March 9; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, March 10
▼ Popejoy Hall, Center for the Arts, Main Campus, University of New Mexico, 203 Cornell Drive, Albuquerque
▼ $43-$88, popejoypresents.com, 877-664-8661