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

Jos N. Banks, who plays the role of Lola in the national tour of “Kinky Boots” (opening Wednesday at the Saroyan Theatre), is following in the footsteps of his idol Billy Porter

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.

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.


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Author: Donald Munro

Covering the arts in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond.

84 thoughts on “From fan to star: This Lola’s boots are charmed”

  1. I had a pair of glittery black platform stilettos – 6 inches!! They were beautiful but I called them my “half-hour” shoes because any longer than that and I’d be in agony. 🙂

  2. Hands down has to be Mrs Luce’s size 11 heels in Little Shop of Horrors. I wear a size 14. Those heels needed to be pried off.

  3. I’ve heard nothing but great things about this show and the touring company. Great article. Sounds like he has big boots to fill but is doing a bang up job doing it. Exciting that they are here in The Central Valley.

  4. My first real job was a cocktail waitress where I wore white go-go boots, a short-short low cut dress and I knew absolutely nothing about cocktails. I NEED to see this!

  5. This is definitely the show I’m most excited about in this season’s Lexus Broadway lineup. I’d love to learn more about Lola and enjoy the fun music! But to answer the question, in college I inherited my mom’s glittery, silver shoes from the 70’s which I would wear for disco themed parties. After a night of dancing, my feet would be blistery and red.

  6. Unfortunately, in 8th grade, I was dismissed from the Elko County Cotillion for attending in daringly short apricot hot pants with white, crinkle-patent leather boots. Not physically painful, but embarrassing for my shocked parents.

  7. Wore gorgeous high heels to a show in hotel we were at in LV. My husband wanted to walk a bit afterwards, the entire strip including the casinos.
    (I think it was to ruin my feet and wear me out so I’d stay in room and not gamble.)
    Pick me, pick me, pick me please.

  8. While I was living in Switzerland, a friend made me a pair of solid wooden bottomed shoes. The platform was 2” high, and she had created straps out of leather that she forgot to blend the edges. I am already almost 6’ tall and I sounded like a clomping horse with very painful shoes. Somehow they didn’t make the trip back. And yes, I would love love love to see the show!,,

  9. A fancy pair of black, bugle-bead covered loafers.
    I loved the Kinky Boots movie, and the music I’ve heard from the show is great.
    I’d love to see this show!

  10. I bought a ridiculous pair of brown suede boots for myself when I turned 21…beautiful but uncomfortable…I wore them to my birthday dinner where the waiter accidentally spilled a plate of shrimp scampi on them!

  11. I used to have crocs. When. Got them I thought what comfortable shoes but in hindsight, who wants to wear shoes filled with holes? I’d love to win tickets and dinner!

  12. Red six inch stilettos 👠! Wore them for a photo shoot when I was young. I about died. I never again volunteered for heels that high. gorgeous but painful. I live in flip flops now😂

  13. Most ridiculous pair of shoes I’ve ever worn was in fact two pairs of shoes. One from each pair. At the same time. When I was a trial attorney. During a trial. On accident of course. Serves me right getting dressed in the dark. Comes close to the time I did an entire trial with a broken pants zipper. Or the time a pair of underwear was stuck on my scarf unbeknownst to me all day. Static cling!

  14. Running shoes …. I never thought I had it in me to run a marathon and was scared . But when I finished my first marathon , I looked ar my worn out shoes an realized that I did this and my feet carried me through this journey of sweat , tears and bloody toe nails . With my pair of running shoes , I realized how strong I could be .. that my spirit was strong to overcome my perceived weaknesses and fear . .. now I know that I am mentally capable of anything as long as I keep at it , one foot in front of another . Thank you

  15. I have 2 pairs of stilettos that are insane and I love them but will only allow myself to wear if the majority of the time I will be sitting down. One pair is red glitter maryjanes and reminds me so much of a slightly naughty version of Dorothy’s ruby slippers and the other are “zombie”. I love them so much… but even writing this has left my feet hurting. LOL

  16. Lol wearing heels to play Edna Turnblad! Oh my does 30 min in heels with a dance show you what “near death experience” really means!

  17. Red, white, and blue, patent-leather, platform, thigh-high boots as a French Ambassador in JoAnn Akalaitis’ 2001 avant-garde production of Schiller’s MARY STUART, at the Court Theatre in Chicago. It breaks my heart that I can no longer find the photo of me in costume. I’m sure it will resurface when my 2032 Presidential Campaign kicks off.

  18. Dance shoes when I was singing with California Heartland (Sweet Adelines) chorus. After three minutes both feet were asleep, and I risked my life every time I climbed up on the risers. Don’t get me started on the false eyelashes!

  19. In high school, I had a pair of blue and black Doc Marten’s that I loved and my mom absolutely hated. I lost them my senior year of high school and blamed her for throwing them away for years and years, then found them in my dad’s garage several years after college. So she didn’t throw them away. I still think she hid them, though.

  20. I’ve been in a few shows where it has been nearly impossible to put me in “period” shoes. You think men have trouble wearing heels? Try walking in my shoes with my hard to fit feet! I’d love to win tickets. Sounds like Lola and I have a lot of the same feet issues.

  21. I have flat feet, so even wearing pumps can be a challenge if the angle is wrong, or the shoes are too narrow. But I once bought a pair of steel toed boots for self defense. The steel toes make them heavy of course, & it’s quite a workout if you’re not used to them.

  22. 4inch black stilleto and boots from Flash Feet on Melrose. But worth it every time I wore them because they looked amazing with everything.

  23. Hey, not too outrageous, high heals … which is hard for a 6 foot 3 inches tall male with size 12 shoes. I’m a 63 year old camp drag queen. This show sound perfect for me. Hee Hee.

  24. Most outrageous was my clown shoes when I dressed as a clown to run against Dan Whitehurst as mayor. Her won. But it was fun while it lasted. As for uncomfortable shoes, I swear what seems comfy walking around in the men’s shoe department often is agony in real life.

  25. Oh gawd! Am not sure?!…I once wore these heels to prom that hurt so much because I wasn’t used to wearing heels and I took flip flops in my purse thankfully ,I danced the night away with my gay friend tony Webb who took me because I didn’t have a date

  26. Pretty much any heels I wear cause me to fall flat on my face!! My husband and I are still finishing up school and therefore super broke, so to be able to go on a date like this would be a dream come true! 🙂

  27. Couldn’t resist buying an adorable pair of shoes…just a half size smaller than what I normally wear. As much as I tried, they never stretched out enough to be comfortable. Would love to see this play!

  28. 4 inch patent leather red heels. Only wore them once and almost didn’t stay upright on them. Not sure how these guys do it!

  29. Flip Flops, at Disneyland. Normally flip flops are great but spend a 16 hour day in them at an overcrowded theme park and you’ll wish you could just sing your pain away.

  30. 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!

  31. 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.

  32. 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!

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

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

  36. 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!!

  37. 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

  38. 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” 😂

  39. 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!

  40. 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!

  41. 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!

  42. 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.

  43. 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.

  44. 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.

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

  46. 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!

  47. 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 🙂

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

  49. 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

  50. 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.

  51. 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…..

  52. 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 💕

  53. 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!

  54. 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.

  55. 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!

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