by Marialena Rago
“I think the universe doesn’t make mistakes when it brings people together,” says Kevin Smith Kirkwood, original cast member of Broadway’s Kinky Boots. “From the wonderful crew at the Hirschfeld, to the front of house, orchestra, and the entire company, Kinky Boots was truly a family affair.”
This April, Kinky Boots ends its six-year run with 2,507 regular performances and 34 previews, and Kirkwood has been there for all of them. “It’s been the most amaxing ride being a part of this show from the workshop to Chicago to all these fabulous years on Broadway,” Kirkwood says.
Kirkwood heard of the Cindy Lauper and Harvey Fierstein production the way a lot of Broadway actors do, an announcement. “I was doing my best Seaweed in a summer production of Hairspray in New Hampshire when the announcement came out. I remember several friends said to me, ‘You know you have to do this show, right?’ Well, when I got back to New York City that fall, my agent at the time got a request for me to come in and audition.”
Wearing an orange kid sized shirt that had a guitar pick on the front with the caption ‘PICK ME’, Kirkwood auditioned to be one of the Angels. He sang Celine Dion’s cover of Tina Turner’s “River Deep Mountain High” which earned him a callback to the dance call. “It seemed like every dancer in New York was [at the dance call]. Well, I did what I could. But truth be told, I left that audition thinking, ‘Ok boo, you did your best. But you probably won’t get cast from that audition so let’s move on.’”
But he was wrong. After a few more dance calls, an Angels’ vocal work session, and a round of final callbacks, he earned a spot in the original cast. “Which goes to show, in this business, when it’s right, its right,” says Kirkwood. “So just show up, be your best you, and let the chips fall where they may.”
Throughout his time in Kinky Boots, Kirkwood has played Lola, Simon Sr., Angel, the referee and has been in the ensemble. Balancing all the roles was easy for him since he had been a swing earlier in his career and he welcomed the idea since he was in the show for so long. Being a part of a show for an extended period of time can also be creatively draining. Instead of leaving a show he loved, he created a solo cabaret show in honor of his idol, Whitney Huston. He called it Classic Whitney: Alive! And the show sold out at Joe’s Pub at The Public Theatre. He says the success of the cabaret “has been more than I ever imagined”.
Over those six years, Kirkwood was also exposed to a lot of celebrities making their Broadway debut as either Charlie or Lola. Some include Dancing With the Stars Pro Mark Ballas, American Idol Winner David Cook, Panic at the Disco! frontman Brendan Urie, and recently NFL Legend Mr. Tikki Barber. But the success of the show wasn’t the star power, it was the message. “I think the show resonates with audiences on so many levels. First off, and on first glance, Kinky Boots is a vibrant, colorful, fun, pop-rock confection of a musical! It’s well written and crafted, brilliantly staged, and the level of talent that graces that stage nightly from the cast is downright infectious! But, then Kinky surprises you with the message. A lot of people can relate to having non-resolved father issues or not living up to their parents’ expectations.”
“Also, the story of two people from different worlds who manage to come together and see their similarities I think resonates, especially in these currently divided social and political times. And finally, the idea that we should all love ourselves enough to just be who you wanna be’ really hits home in an inspirational way. I love feeling the positive energy of the audience every night during the finale. Sometimes people just jump up and dance. And it’s wonderful to see.”
As for the shows lasting legacy, Kirkwood believes this: “I think Kinky Boots’ legacy will be that it was a fun musical with a beautiful message that came along at a time where it was needed. It inspired a lot of love, positivity, and good energy into people and the world and also managed to snag a few pieces of Broadway history. Not too shabby, Kinky!”