Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Stage

Stage Planner: 'Kinky Boots' mirrors real life, catch these shows before they end

GET KINKY: BOOTS, THAT IS

You've heard of the musical Kinky Boots, which won six Tony awards in 2013. Perhaps you saw the 2005 movie. Both are "based on a true story." The Broadway show opens Tuesday at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

But have you heard the story on which Kinky Boots is based?

The hit musical comes with a lot of bells and whistles, including a Tony-winning original score by Cyndi Lauper. The story centers on Charlie Price, a fourth-generation owner of a struggling shoe factory. To save the factory, which sold quality men's shoes, he begins manufacturing flashy women's boots for drag queens.

WJ Brooks, the real factory, was founded in 1898 in Northampton, England, according to the Northampton Chronicle. In 1979, descendant Steve Pateman joined his father, Richard, there. By the 1990s, cheaper imports made it hard for WJ Brooks to keep up. Pateman, who had taken over the business, laid off two-thirds of his workers.

In the movie and play, Charlie then meets Lola, a drag queen. The chance encounter gives Charlie the spark of an idea to save the plant.

In real life, there was no Lola. Pateman's inspiration came from a random phone call. According to the Chronicle and other stories, a store catering to drag queens asked Pateman if he could make thigh-high boots in red or black leather.

It seemed like a good idea to Pateman, who invested in a machine that would put 4 ½-inch heels on boots. He reinforced the boots with a weight-bearing metal strut and called his new product "Divine Footwear."

Sales picked up dramatically. The remaining workers held onto their jobs. BBC did a 1999 documentary on the turnaround.

The attention came at a price. Other mainstream companies also started making the boots, competing with WJ Brooks. An American firm also defaulted on a debt to the company. When the Chronicle interviewed him, Pateman was working as a firefighter. He had not yet seen the musical, Kinky Boots, but hoped to see it in London.

To read more about Kinky Boots, click here.. You can see it Tuesday through Dec. 6 at the Straz Center, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $55 to $130. (813) 229-7827. strazcenter.org.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: A COUPLE OF IDEAS

Thanksgiving weekend isn't the busiest time to attend a show. But if you're new in town or just hadn't given it much thought, a few performances are still on the horizon.

TRT², a laboratory company for Tampa Repertory Theatre, is heading into the last weekend of Tender Napalm by Philip Ridley. A man and woman are the only characters — not just in the play, but in the world. Their road to truth is a rocky one and is for mature audiences. The show starts at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Silver Meteor Gallery, 2213 E Sixth Ave., Ybor City. $15. tamparep.org.

Asolo Repertory Theatre's West Side Story is midway through its run. Performers typically come from New York and rehearse about a month, producing artistic director Michael Donald Edwards said.

The show is part of a series at the Asolo called "Our American Character."

"It's about the great circle of change that is America, a faster pace than anywhere in the world," said Edwards, a native of Australia. "Every one of our stories this year connect to a great period of intense, dramatic and even thrilling change in America."

West Side Story runs through Dec. 27 at Asolo Repertory Theatre, 5555 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. $26-$83. (941) 351-8000. asolorep.org.

     
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