It’s a familiar story: Thousands of factory workers laid off as cheap imports flood the market.
When that calamity hit shoe factories in central England, one small manufacturer took an audacious new approach to survive.
Instead of conventional men’s shoes, the factory started to churn out flashy, ladies-style boots for drag queens, featuring reinforced high heels sturdy enough to support a heavier customer.
This unconventional transformation and the people behind it provide the back story for the touring Broadway musical “Kinky Boots,” opening Tuesday night at the Saenger Theatre.
The production, with eight evening performances and weekend matinees, will run through Sunday, Feb. 21.
Originally a British-made feature film, “Kinky Boots” was adapted for the musical stage in 2013 with songs written by Cyndi Lauper and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell.
It was the surprise hit of the Broadway season in which it premiered, nominated for 13 Tony Awards and winning six of them, including Best Musical, Score and Choreography.
In the true story behind the show, Steve Pateman, a fourth-generation Northampton shoe manufacturer, struggled to keep his factory afloat and his workers employed. It was a random phone call from a transgender woman who owned a fetish shop in southern England that sparked Pateman’s interest in producing eye-catching ladies’ stiletto-heeled boots in men’s sizes.
In the film and musical adaptation of the story, Pateman’s name is changed to Charlie Price. The drag queen Lola was introduced as the designer who helps shoe factory owner retool for the new line of what she dubbed “kinky boots.”
Adam Kaplan, as Charlie Price, is enjoying the lead role that he took on in November.
“It’s a great part. Charlie’s character has a ton of dimensions to him,” Kaplan said.
“He starts off the show as this meek, Pippin-like character who doesn’t really know what he wants and is just searching for his purpose in life,” Kaplan said. “He’s kind of forced into the situation he’s in, and he has to look at things a different way. ... But he does get to save the day at the end.”
Underlying the main plot is an undercurrent of animosity toward Lola from some of Price’s factory workers, plus the resentment they harbor about having to make drastic changes in their product line.
Eventually, it becomes too much for Lola, who abandons the project. But, as in most musicals of this type, everything is happily resolved in a grand finale of song and dance.
The role of Lola in the New Orleans production is played by J. Harrison Ghee. Price’s love interest, Lauren, is played by Tiffany Engen.
“Between Lola and I, it’s such an interesting relationship,” Kaplan said. “I don’t think that Charlie fully understands Lola at the start of the show. But as things develop, he learns more about Lola by diving deep into himself.”
“It’s one of the more challenging roles that I’ve ever done, in terms of all the dimensions that it calls for, including acting, singing and dancing,” Kaplan said.
“But it’s also one of my most rewarding roles. I get to be a part of a wonderful message, and I’m so happy to be spreading that message across the country.”