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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: March 27, 2018

‘Kinky Boots’ comes kicking into Merrill Auditorium

Written by: Ray Routhier

On the surface, the hit musical “Kinky Boots” is about ornately decorated, thigh-high, stiletto-heeled boots worn by drag queens.

But after donning a pair of the kinky boots himself, and performing in them for the last six months, Jos N. Banks says the show is really about crossing divides.

“It has a message of acceptance, something which we all need right now,” said Banks, 27, who plays the drag queen Lola in the show’s national tour. “And the message is helped by the music, which is universal.”

“Kinky Boots” won six Tony Awards, including best musical, before touring productions began about four years ago. Banks and the rest of the touring cast are scheduled to do three shows at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium on Friday and Saturday. The shows are presented by Portland Ovations.

People who’ve never seen “Kinky Boots” before can expect a rousing show with lots of high-heeled dancing and songs by pop star Cyndi Lauper. As a singer, Lauper hit the big time in the early 1980s with hits like “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “Time After Time.” Lauper won a best original score Tony for composing the music for “Kinky Boots,” and she also earned a Grammy for best musical theater album for the cast recording.

Longtime Broadway actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein wrote the book for the show. He also wrote the book for the hit “La Cage aux Folles” and wrote and starred in the Broadway play “Torch Song Trilogy.”

“Kinky Boots” is based on a 2005 British film which, in turn, is based on true events. The focus is on Charlie Price, who takes over his family’s struggling shoe business but doesn’t really want to. One night outside a pub, he steps in to help a woman being harassed by two drunks and gets knocked unconscious for his trouble. The woman he tried to help turns out to be Lola (played by Banks) the star of the club’s drag revue.

Later, when Charlie is desperately trying to think of a niche market that might save his business, he remembers the boots in Lola’s dressing room. They were sexy, stylish, but not built to support the weight of a man. A light bulb goes off in his brain, and with Lola’s help, Charlie starts making the kinky boots.

Banks said his favorite song to sing in the show is “Not My Father’s Son.” Lola, whose birth name is Simon, was trained to box by her father and was disowned when she showed up for a match in drag.

Banks, who is from Chicago, was working both as a performer and costume designer when he auditioned for “Kinky Boots.” He was an understudy to several characters in a version of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and working on costumes for three other shows. He’s been in national touring productions of “The Color Purple” and “Hair,” but this is his first lead role.

It’s actually a perfect combination of Banks’ fields, performing and costume design. That’s because the boots are a supporting player in the show, figuratively and literally.

Just like in the story, the costume designers of “Kinky Boots” had to make thigh-high boots with 6-inch stiletto heals that could support 6-foot tall dancers.

And one of those pairs has Banks’ name on it.

“This has been a dream role of mine, there’s such a range of emotions involved,” Banks said.

Broadway National Tour of “Kinky Boots”

WHERE: Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: $55 to $80
INFO: Portlandovations.org

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