Top Hat to Present Valley Premiere of ‘Kinky Boots’

YOUNGSTOWN – When Brian Palumbo first saw “Kinky Boots” on Broadway, he knew he had to bring it to Youngstown.

The director of Top Hat Productions said the Tony Award-winning musical about a drag show performer checked every box for his Christian theater group.

“Kinky Boots” is about looking beyond initial impressions and seeing the whole person or situation – which makes it exactly the kind of show that Top Hat Productions seeks, Palumbo said

Top Hat’s production, which will be the Mahoning Valley premiere of the show that won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Musical, begins its three-weekend run on Friday, Sept. 30.

“I was attracted to it because people always want to put other people in boxes, and don’t bother even getting to know the person,” Palumbo said. “Be they Black, White, old, young, rich, poor, gay, straight, there is not a single word that describes any person. Everyone has layers.”

Palumbo said that “Kinky Boots” also has layers and eventually reveals them all.

“At first glance, you see Lola (the lead character) and you think you know what you’re going to get because of preconceived notions of a drag queen,” Palumbo said. “But the show is not about drag queens. It’s about looking beyond what you are seeing. When you get out of your comfort zone a bit, your world opens up.”

“Kinky Boots” tells the story of Charlie Price, who has reluctantly inherited his father’s shoe factory, which is on the verge of bankruptcy. While trying to save the business, Charlie meets and is inspired by Lola. He sees exactly what he needs in her, and the unlikely duo turn around the factory’s fate.

A lot of people asked Palumbo how a Christian theater could stage such a risqué musical. Palumbo said that those who asked that question had obviously never seen the show – and were, in fact, doing the same thing that some characters in the musical do to Lola.

“Although many people give Lola a quick look and form an opinion of who she is, once they allow themselves to broaden their thinking, they realize that there is so much more than meets the eye,” Palumbo wrote in his director’s notes.

Palumbo knew that the show isn’t for everyone; some actors didn’t even want to audition for it. “They were judging a book by its cover,” he said.

Becky McConnell, Brandy Johanntges, Anthony Villa and Chris Scott in a scene from “Kinky Boots.”

Getting “Kinky Boots” to the stage has been “a massive undertaking,” Palumbo said. He kept the bar as high as possible, from props to costumes to music.

“There are over 40 pairs of boots and shoes in it, and all of them had to be altered,” he said. “That’s what the show is about.”

Palumbo has a volunteer team of five that handled the boots and costumes.

The cast is led by Anthony Wood-Mitchell of Akron, who stepped into the role of Lola just two weeks ago. “He is nailing it,” Palumbo said, noting that the show’s energy, and the entire cast, plays off the lead role.

Anthony Villa plays Charlie Price. The cast also includes Ben Bogan, David Brown, Natalie Cannacci, Jeremy Davis, Liam Levendosk, Brandy Johanntges, Jessica Ludovici, Beky McConnell, Kaleb McFarland, Adrienne Millard, Brayden Norvell, Christopher Scott, Isaiah Sheldon, Brittany Storey, Brian Suchora, Phill Taylor, Trickia Terlesky, Kye Thomas and Julie Villa.

The show uses digital music, not a live band, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

“There are parts that go into five-part harmony,” Palumbo said.

Cyndi Lauper wrote the score, which Palumbo said is complex.

“People know her as a pop punk star from the 1980s and ’90s,” he said. “But she is [multitalented]. She’s intense with her composing… the timing, things coming in on the off-beats. There are tight harmonies, and you really have to feel it.”

Anthony Ruggiero is the music director.

“Kinky Boots” has three dance numbers that involve the leads and the ensemble, and another handful of smaller choreographed musical scenes.

With Top Hat’s smallish stage, lighting plays a key role in scenery changes. “It goes from inside the factory to outside the factory, and we also need a nightclub,” Palumbo said, crediting lighting director Jeff Chan.

“Kinky Boots” is the fourth time Top Hat has presented a Mahoning Valley premiere. The others were “Smokey Joe’s Café,” “Amazing Grace” and “Violet.”

Top Hat Productions, 4220 Youngstown Poland Road, will present “Kinky Boots” at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 30-Oct. 1, Oct. 7-8 and Oct. 14-15. Tickets are $18.75 and available HERE.

Pictured at top: Anthony Woods-Mitchell plays the lead role of Lola in Top Hat Productions’ “Kinky Boots.”

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