How 'Kinky Boots' changed from Broadway to Off-Broadway

Callum Francis, who has performed in Kinky Boots around the world, shares what to expect from the show's latest New York production.


Callum Francis has starred as the drag queen Lola in the Tony Award-winning musical Kinky Boots on three different continents: first in Europe, in London's West End; then in Australia; and then in North America, on Broadway. After playing her for four years, when the show closed on Broadway in 2019, Francis thought he had put away Lola’s six-inch, red platform heels for good. “​​I felt like I'd achieved everything I could from her,” Francis said. 

Fast-forward to 2022, when Kinky Boots announced an Off-Broadway revival at Stage 42. The musical’s Tony-winning director, Jerry Mitchell, called Francis and asked him if he wanted to play Lola again. A pandemic had happened, and Francis had had a negative work experience in Australia that left him feeling demoralized. “I was in a very, very dark place,” said Francis. “And I was like, ‘Oh my god, I think I need it.' I just needed Lola to teach me about myself again.” 

Kinky Boots — written by Harvey Fierstein with original, Tony- and Grammy-winning songs by Cyndi Lauper — is about a young man named Charlie, the heir to his father’s shoe factory in England. The company is failing because there is no longer a demand for men's loafers, but it gets a second chance when Charlie meets Lola. With her help, Charlie pivots from making drab loafers to fabulous yet sturdy heels for men who perform as drag queens. Lola teaches him not only about feminine footwear, but also about tolerance, kindness, and the importance of being unapologetically yourself.

But Lola doesn’t just change the characters in the show: She also changed the actor playing her. “Lola taught me about Callum way more than any therapist or anything has ever done,” Francis enthusiastically said. 

The musical itself has changed, too. For one thing, the cast is mostly new. Fierstein and Mitchell also tweaked the script and the staging, respectively, as they reenvisioned Kinky Boots for a new venue and a new moment in time. “This team, they've been doing it for 10-plus years, and it's as if they've done it for the first time,” said Francis. “They're so hands-on because they care about it so much.” 

Francis shared how the musical has been updated to ensure that, like a well-made pair of shoes, Kinky Boots fits perfectly in 2022.

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The Kinky Boots script got a refresh.

Kinky Bootsis based on a 2005 British indie film of the same name, and the musical version first premiered in 2013. The show ran on Broadway until 2019, winning six Tonys including Best Musical. When the creative team decided to bring the musical back, they wanted it to feel as fresh and fun as it did when it first premiered. In the years since Kinky Boots opened, drag queens have become mainstream entertainers thanks to TV shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race, and perceptions of gender have evolved significantly. Francis admitted that with those cultural changes, “Kinky Boots didn't age well with it.”

So Fierstein made some revisions to the script. For example, in the original version of Kinky Boots, Lola explains to the factory workers what a drag queen is. Fierstein cut that exchange, as well as any mentions of "transvestites," a term now considered derogatory. 

Another crucial change is when Lola first steps onto the stage and addresses the audience with: “Ladies and gentlemen, and those who have yet to make up their minds.” In 2022, that line acknowledges that gender is not a binary. Lola now says: “Ladies, gentlemen, they, them, and those who have yet to make up their minds.” 

Francis admits the previous version was “a little bit of a joke.” But now, what was once a laugh line is much more poignant. “It’s saying, take your time, this is a safe space. Just know that you're welcome,” said Francis. “I like that part because now, people cheer and whoop from that line.”

The venue is smaller.

Stage 42 is significantly smaller than Broadway's Al Hirschfeld Theatre; it has 499 seats, as opposed to the Hirschfeld's 1,424. That also means the stage itself is smaller, so the set pieces had to be scaled down slightly. Some showstopping pieces are still intact, though: In Kinky Boots's Act 1 closer, "Everybody Say Yeah,” the characters still dance on a moving factory assembly line. 

But the response from the audience is, if anything, even bigger than before. Francis said he prefers performing in a more intimate theatre because he can actually hear the audience, especially in the quiet moments of the show. “We can hear all those reactions, which we never normally could do with the big house,” he says.

Likewise, audience members can hear and see small things they might not catch in a Broadway venue, like all the intricate details of the glitzy boots.

The musical's message is even more relevant now.

Kinky Boots returned to NYC earlier this summer, and meanwhile, drag queens and members of the LGBTQ+ community are being terrorized. Protestors have shown up at, and even stormed, drag events all around the country. While Kinky Boots has always championed inclusivity and diversity, Francis said that message is more essential than ever now. 

Kinky Boots finds itself in cities, in countries, wherever, when it needs it most,” said Francis, before exclaiming. “My goodness, America — truly, I'm saying this as a Brit and I don't mean to offend — but it needs it. It truly needs reminding that being different is wonderful.”

The show features a mostly new cast.

Only a few actors previously played their roles in Kinky Boots on Broadway. Aside from Francis, there's Marcus Neville, who originated the role of factory worker George Moon. Kevin Smith Kirkwood and Ian Gallagher Fitzgerald also played their roles as Angels, Lola's drag-queen backup dancers, on Broadway before.

A couple other cast members performed in non-New York iterations of Kinky Boots, including on tour and abroad. However, the majority of the cast is stepping into the boots for the first time in New York and altogether.

As the star of Kinky Boots, Francis himself has changed.

Lauper once gave Francis an important piece of advice for playing Lola. “Trust the rhythm,” Francis recalled her saying. “The snare drum is your best friend. If you try to think beyond the snare drum, you're wrong. Trust that, it's the rhythm of the show.” It’s a way of listening to the music to make sure you’re right on top of it, but to Francis, it’s also a way of learning to let go and give himself over to the show.

Francis admitted that when he first played Lola in his mid-20s, he was self-conscious and eager to prove himself. Now that he’s in his early 30s, Francis is learning to internalize some of Lola’s joy and effervescence — even if his body now aches more after every performance than it used to. 

“Performers are egotistical. We are riddled with anxiety,” he said. “It's so much fun to just lose myself in the fun of Lola in the show. I don't want to say it's easier this time, because it's absolutely not. But it's easy to lose myself in it.”

Lauper told Francis his Lola now feels more mature. If Francis can pinpoint the most important thing Lola has taught him, it’s how to be unapologetically himself. Every time he puts her shoes on, it’s a reminder of that: “It's the line in the show that says, ‘Just be.’ It's as simple as that. I carry myself with that.” 

Get Kinky Boots tickets now.