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From fan to star: This Lola’s boots are charmed

UPDATE: Congratulations to Chris Ortiz-Belcher, our “Kinky Boots” prize-package winner.  In his entry, he wrote: ” ‘Kinky Boot’s is one of my favorite shows and I would pass out if I got to see it in person!” (No word on whether Chris lost consciousness this morning when he heard the news.)

ORIGINAL POST: Join with me for a few moments, if you will, to revel in the story of Jos N. Banks and his unlikely “Kinky Boots” journey. He went from “world’s biggest fan” of the actor playing Lola on Broadway to nabbing the role himself in the national tour of the show.

A bit of background is in order:

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Lance Bordelon, center left, and Jos N. Banks, center right, along with the cast of the national tour of “Kinky Boots.” Photo / Matthew Murphy

Banks, who studied musical theater in college, had long been an admirer of Billy Porter. The veteran Broadway actor originated the role of Lola, the empowered drag queen who winds up in a crazy scheme to save a failing English shoe factory by making thigh-high “kinky boots” for men. (Porter won a 2013 Tony Award for best actor in a musical for the show.)


Win a pair of tickets to opening night of “Kinky Boots” plus dinner at Cosmopolitan Tavern and free parking. See details at the end of this post.


Banks — gregarious and chatty when he answered my call while on tour with the show in Colorado — was also a fan of “Kinky Boots” the show itself. A resident of Chicago, Banks had seen a rehearsal for the musical, which features a powerhouse book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, in its pre-Broadway tryout in that city.

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Later, on a trip to New York, Banks got a ticket to see the Broadway production.

“It was pretty phenomenal,” he says. “I saw it right after Billy won his Tony. It was a Wednesday matinee, and I wasn’t really expecting him to be there. But then Lola ran out in her first scene, and sure enough: It was Billy.”

Banks waited at the stage door after the show and got to meet Porter.

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Billy Porter won a 2013 Tony Award for his portrayal of Lola in “Kinky Boots.” Photo / Internet Broadway Database

“He talked to me and my boyfriend about my career and my passion for theater,” he says. “He was very profound in his words on the industry.”

At this point, of course, Banks had no idea that in a few years he’d be playing Lola in theaters across the country.

In fact, he’d never even dressed in drag before. But more on that in a moment.

First let’s move ahead a little. Porter released his third album, “Billy’s Back on Broadway,” in 2014, and was slated to be featured on a PBS “Live at Lincoln Center” special. To promote the album and the show, Porter’s publicist concocted a contest: a nationwide search for Billy Porter’s biggest fan. The prize: a trip to New York to see the special.

It was the type of lighthearted promotion in which the winner was selected by how many online votes a participant received. Banks went all in. He wrote a glowing entry talking about his respect and admiration for Porter’s craft.

He won.

Should we say the rest was fate?

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Jos N. Banks plays Lola in the national tour of “Kinky Boots.” Photo / Twitter

Obviously, there was no connection between the biggest fan contest and Banks eventually landing the role of Lola. But it makes a great story.

What did make a difference was persistence and hard work. Banks auditioned for Lola every time the role came up, including for the first national tour, and came achingly close each time.

The current national tour was the charm. Banks has been touring the country for about four months.

In “Kinky Boots,” we first meet Lola in a scene in which she is accosted by two drunks. An entitled young man named Charlie (played in the national tour by Lance Bordelon), heir to a struggling shoe factory, tries to help but gets knocked out in the process. Charlie regains consciousness in a seedy drag club where Lola is the headliner.

In the process of getting to know Lola, Charlie stumbles across an obscure fact: Drag queens have to teeter around on unsafe stiletto boots because no one manufactures any styles designed to bear the weight of a grown man. He gets an idea: How about making boots for this niche market?

And thus, an unlikely partnership (and friendship) between Charlie and Lola is born.

In the meantime, we also learn a lot more about Lola, including her own backstory — and a revelation about her athletic prowess that comes as a surprise.

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Jos N. Banks is Lola in the national tour of “Kinky Boots.” Photo / Matthew Murphy

For Banks, the biggest challenge for playing a believable Lola was mastering the right posture and standing “like a lady.”

And mastering those famous boots. “I’m used to them now,” he says. “The hardest thing is that they don’t bend at the knee.”

He also had to learn a lot about makeup. Unlike the Lola on Broadway, the one on this tour does her own makeup. Banks has learned to turn his pre-show makeup session into an inspirational warm-up.

“I created a playlist on Spotify that I listen to every day, with very strong African-American women like Gloria Gaynor and Beyonce,” he says.

With its feel-good comedy and inspirational message of tolerance and inclusion, “Kinky Boots” is a natural crowd-pleaser, and Lauper’s buoyant music can turn the show into a love fest of sorts. In smaller cities across the U.S., that message is resonating on the current tour, even when “out of nowhere comes this 6-foot-1-inch African-American man in drag,” Banks says.

“The biggest thing I hope people get from the show in general is love and acceptance — really the understanding that we are all on this Earth trying to get by. We need to realize that we are all human. We’re all trying to survive, trying to live a happy life.”

And, yes, that life is pretty happy at the moment for Banks, even with a marathon of a role that includes a 16-second costume change.

Banks’ last role before the tour began was a production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” in the Chicago area. Porter came to see the show, and he checked in with his “biggest fan” afterward. They compared notes.

A few weeks after that, Banks had his first callback for a certain national tour.

Who knew that he’d be filling the boots of Billy Porter?


Win tickets

I’m offering a special prize package to a lucky reader of The Munro Review: a pair of tickets to the opening night performance of “Kinky Boots” (7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 31); dinner for two at the Cosmopolitan Tavern (conveniently located in the convention center parking lot); and free theater parking. (Thanks again to Cosmopolitan and Broadway in Fresno for their generosity.)

To enter, leave a comment on this post answering these questions: What’s the most outrageous (or outrageously painful) pair of shoes you’ve ever worn? (If you’re too shy to share, just tell me why you’d like to see the show.)

Deadline to enter is 10 p.m. Monday, Jan. 29. Winner selected at random. I’ll be notifying the winner on Tuesday morning so be sure to check your email. Please don’t enter if you won’t be able to attend.


Show info

“Kinky Boots,” 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 31, and Thursday, Feb. 1, Saroyan Theatre. Tickets are $29-$69.


To subscribe to the email newsletter for The Munro Review, go to this link:

https://tinyletter.com/donaldfresnoarts

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

Comments (84)

  • Kaitlyn

    As a huge fan of all things Broadway, it’s saying something when I say I haven’t seen Kinky Boots or even heard the sound track! I missed the Tony’s the one year they performed and the stars have never aligned for me to hear the recording. I’d would be absolutely thrilled to win these tickets. Due to the trajectory of life right now, I am in the need of some beautiful music, bright lights, and the excitement of live theater. This would be the perfect pick-me-up!

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  • Sean Stoll

    Nothing too outrageous, but I was at a friends house and she was showing off a pair of laced heels she’d be wearing to the bar that night. Out of a weird curiosity I asked to try them on and she let me. I found out that day heels are surprisingly comfortable to walk in.

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  • Joie Adams

    I used to be a costume character at a theme park and I had these great big padded sneakers that I had to run around in. Tripped a lot at first, but when I got used to them, I was unstoppable!

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  • Susan

    My wedding shoes had to be the most uncomfortable. We got married in Sutro Heights Park in San Francisco. It was super foggy and the ground was moist and my high heels kept sinking into the ground.

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  • Danielle Shapazian

    I decided to wear a brand new pair of tennis shoes to Disneyland. Bad idea!! I developed blisters so fast that I could barely walk through the park! I had to buy a pair of flip flops and those didn’t help much either but at least it relieved the pain a bit.

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  • Laura Couron

    I would love to see this Tony Award-winning show with it’s uplifting and inclusive message, not to mention the great music!

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  • Cyndle Cee

    Not a crazy pair but a crazy amount. For someone who 99% of the time switches between my tech boots and my work flats i own close to 30 pairs of shoes!!

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  • Michael F.

    Try wearing jazz shoes that were two sizes too small because you forgot yours at home and you’re about to go onstage, my pinky toe was nonexistent once I got offstage, but I learned my lesson and never forgot my dance shoes again, haha

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  • Dylan Hardcastle

    I just had to wear a pair of women’s shoes for a documentary shoot (I wear size 12 men’s) and my feet were so crushed in there. But hey… “art is pain” 😂

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  • Oh my goodness this would be amazing to take my theater loving daughter to see! KB was already sold out when I tried to get tickets for her non-performance night!! Painful shoes? any new shoes while photographing a wedding has been horrible decision on my part! tried it twice… never again!

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  • Janice

    What a great opportunity for Fresno to have this show! I would love to see it–the music is fabulous!

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  • Julia

    My 2015 prom shoes..eeek

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  • Frances Mejias

    I wore a pair of spiky black heels to a wedding and was in agony by the time I got to the church – ditched the shoes for the rest of the night! Loved the original movie with Chiwetel Ejiofor!

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  • Mady B.

    I used to have a pair of Vans that I wrote movie quotes on. They were very dear to my heart all through high school, they were very fun!

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  • Kathy

    I bought what I thought was a great pair of black Manolo Blahnik heels on a trip to NYC. The first day I wore them to work, my feet were dying by midday. A lot higher than I though. I’ve never looked at them the same since.

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  • Cindy Tiehen

    Silver heels, one of which got caught in the hem of my floor length formal sending me tumbling down a flight of stairs, slo mo (ala Tim Conway) & landing in a crumpled mess at the feet of my high-school crush.

    reply
  • Karan Johnson

    I foolishly bought a of pair of expensive canvas flats that were hand-painted with armadillos. The first time I wore them – to the Pride parade and then to FAB, I got huge blisters and haven’t worn them since.

    reply
  • Christina stahl

    Heels for sure !!!
    Would love to take my theater major, musical theater loving daughter to see this !!!! Good luck everyone 👢💚👢💚👢💚👢💚👢💚

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  • Tammi Nerdahl

    I would be MOM of the YEAR…I won tickets and took my daughter.

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  • Julie Saldana

    Because of some physical issues…heels and I don’t mix. So, when I see any fabulous shoe, I drool a bit. The movie was delightful. I can only imagine how fun it would be to see the “live” (almost typed liver) show. Good luck to all!

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  • Marisa Sanchez

    The most painful pair of shoes I’ve worn was a GORGEOUS pair of vintage lace up boots that my friend Maria gave me. They were a 1/2 size too small but I was DETERMINED to make them fit! #BeautyIsPain 🙂

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  • Jennifer Olsen

    Let’s see. Has to be a pair of red patent leather knee high platform stiletto boots that were probably 6-7 inches high!

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  • Debbie Buckman

    I hate country music with a passion. Having said that, I always wanted a pair of red cowboy boots. For my 57th birthday, I got some and wore them with a black dress….and danced on the table. #secretdream

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  • Marie Polzin

    I’ll not forget the four inch platforms I chose to wear to a SF club a few years ago, We had concert and dinner seats upstairs at Slim’s and were forced to walk back to our hotel after the concert. The shoes were retired.

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  • Gloria Burrell

    Would LOVE ❤️ 💕 this show!

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  • Amalie

    Let’s see….for a few years I was really into vintage shoes but unfortunately I guess women back in the day had MUCH smaller feet than me. I would regularly squeeze my size 8’s into size 7’s and even on one memorably painful occasion, a 6 1/2. But man those shoes were beautiful…..

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  • Becca

    So cool! Can’t wait to see it, I have even stayed away from the soundtrack in hopes of surprise 🙂

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  • Maddie Williams

    There’s been a lot of painful shoes in my life (any heels in Vegas) but when I was 4yrs old, I used to don cowboy boots while wearing a tutu! Most outrageous and fabulous 💕

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  • Chris Ortiz-Belcher

    The most outrageously painful pair of shoes I’ve ever had to wear… Well I was in a production of Fiddler in high school and I was Tevye. So the whole show I wore leather boots with a wooden sole which were three whole sizes to small but that’s what the costumer wanted in me in, so four weeks of wearing those boots. I had cuts on my foot from my nails cutting into my toes but I was told I looked great! Ahh the things we do for theatre.
    P.S. Kinky Boots is one of my favorite shows and I would pass out if I got to see it in person!

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  • Christina wyneken

    Last September I wore a pair of usually comfortable Naot sandals to a baseball tournament at Sunnyside H.S. on the weekend the temperature was roasting and the air was smoky. By the time I walked back & forth to my car and the snack bar several times for water and ice, I had huge deep blisters on both feet.

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  • Cheryl Coddington

    i used to wear shows with heels even though they’d wear out quickly from doing yard duty on the hot black-top! But after having two very painful neuromas removed, I know only wear comfort shoes that aren’t always the most fashionable! And besides, the New Wrinkles Bingo lady would love to see this show!

    reply

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