Weathervane’s “Kinky Boots” at last struts the stage — nearly a year and a half later

By Abbey Marshall, TDS Staff Reporter

Anthony Woods-Mitchell recalls the first time he saw Kinky Boots on Broadway in 2017. In an off-the-shoulder, red-jeweled cocktail dress, the drag performer commanded the stage, performing dazzling choreography and beckoning the audience into the “Land of Lola.”

This was months before Woods-Mitchell became a performer, lighting up stages across Northeast Ohio, but seeing a Black man like himself perform such a bold and carefree role awakened a desire to perform. He wanted to be that same inspiration to other aspiring performers who looked like him.

“I told everyone that would listen: ‘Just watch. I’m going to be the first plus-sized Lola,’” said Woods-Mitchell, a nursing assistant in Massillon. “As a thicker person, there aren’t too many roles for my size or being played by people my size. I think it’s so important I’m doing this because there may be people that see themselves in Lola, too, that feel the exact same way when it comes to representation.”

Woods-Mitchell’s dream of strapping on Lola’s heels is realized in Weathervane Playhouse’s fall production of Kinky Boots, opening Sept. 30.

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Kinky Boots follows Charlie Price, a young man desperate to escape his family’s modest ambitions for him in Northern England and chase a more exciting life in London with his fiancée. But when his father dies, he must take over the family’s struggling shoemaking business. He forms an unlikely friendship with Lola, a larger-than-life cabaret drag performer in need of a more sturdy heel, and he stumbles upon a niche market to rejuvenate business: stilettos tailored specifically for drag queens.

As the pair works to turn around Price & Sons, they find they have a lot more in common than they initially thought. Kinky Boots preaches a message of acceptance and individuality, juxtaposing seemingly diametrically opposite groups of flamboyant drag queens and small-town traditionalists, who come to understand each other’s stories and identities throughout the show.

“Something I want to portray to the audience is just loving yourself and loving others,” Woods-Mitchell said. “Go through life unafraid to make different decisions from everyone else and stay authentic to yourself.”

For over a year, Woods-Mitchell and his colleagues feared they wouldn’t be able to share that message with audiences. In March 2020, just weeks before opening night, Weathervane Playhouse’s doors shuttered for the pandemic.

A significant amount of creative and financial investment had already been placed into the show, said Weathervane’s Chief Executive and Artistic Director Melanie Pepe, from custom stilettos to costume builds to set pieces. Woods-Mitchell recalls the first few weeks meeting for Zoom rehearsals while there was still “hope in the air,” but ultimately, that hope became devastation when they realized live theater would be on indefinite hold.

Now, nearly a year and a half later, the show must go on.

“We had to almost completely start over,” Pepe said. “We lost about a third of the cast, so we reauditioned and some people changed roles. They had a new music director and new blocking and some set redesign for COVID precautions between performers and audiences. We were reteaching music most of the cast had already learned, but with some changed parts. It’s unlike any theatrical process I’ve ever been through.”

The cast and crew reconvened in July, preparing for Weathervane’s first show back since the pandemic began. The team even received a video message from Billy Porter, who won a Tony for originating the role of Lola on Broadway in 2013, wishing them good luck on opening night. 

With flashy choreography and wildly catchy, upbeat music written by pop icon Cyndi Lauper, Kinky Boots is sure to be a delightful spectacle for Northeast Ohio theatre-goers.

“It’s just a fun show,” Pepe said. “But more importantly, it’s also about the message of the show. The world has been through such turbulence. We’ve had a lot of changes in the way we view equity, inclusivity, accessibility, changes in the way people identify since the theater doors closed. I’m excited we can celebrate being together again and delving into these issues together instead of separately in our own homes.”

Kinky Boots runs on weekends from Sept. 30 to Oct. 24. Tickets can be purchased at www.weathervaneplayhouse.com. Weathervane requires masks and proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the performance.

Photos provided by Weathervane Playhouse.

Abbey Marshall is the economic development reporter for The Devil Strip via Report for America and a musical theater aficionado in her free time. Email her at abbey@thedevilstrip.com to discuss any stage or movie musical, except Cats (2019).

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