music in the park san jose

.Kinky Boots Kicks It Up For Extended Run

music in the park san jose

What could a glum shoe salesman and an ebullient drag queen possibly have in common? That question is at the heart of the musical Kinky Boots, whose summer run at City Lights Theater has been extended through August 27th due to overwhelming demand. 

“From the outside looking in as an audience member, you’ll see two totally different lifestyles,” says actor Barton “Bart” Perry, who plays Lola/Simon, a fictional gender-bending performer. 

“But as the story progresses, they both start to see they are more alike than not.” 

Since Kinky Boots first came out as a film in 2005, the heartwarming story of unlikely friendship forged amid the glitter of drag has won over thousands—especially in queer communities of color, where drag has a long, empowering history. British screenwriters Geoff Deane and Tim Firth took inspiration from the true story of a Northamptonshire man who almost lost his family’s shoe factory in the ’90s to craft Charlie Price, a character who finds himself with a similar conundrum at the start of the play. The dramedy was such a hit that celebrated playwright Harvey Fierstein wrote a stage musical adaptation, which debuted on Broadway in 2013, with music by none other than pop star Cyndi Lauper. The show went on to win an incredible six Tony Awards that year, including Best Musical. 

A decade later (right on time for Silicon Valley Pride), San Jose audiences are embracing Kinky Boots with as much enthusiasm as ever. 

As Charlie struggles to keep his reluctantly inherited business from going bankrupt, he takes a detour from his “cookie-cutter” life one night and strolls into a boisterous club. There, Lola and her “Angels” are performing in high heels far too delicate for their frames. 

“He realizes, ‘Oh my gosh, what can save our factory is finding a niche market,’” Perry says.  

What begins as a last-ditch business idea eventually unlocks deeper themes surrounding the weight of tradition, as both characters have struggled with how their identities crash against the burden of family expectations. 

“Speaking to people after the show, listening to what they take away, it’s the relationships they have with their parents,” Perry says, “whether it is repairing that relationship or cherishing that relationship.”

The actor, who was raised in Fresno, is no stranger to these themes. 

“I’m a junior,” he says. “My dad is Barton, Sr. and growing up, my dad put a lot of pressure on me to show up as basically the replica of him.” In his family, this meant strong ties to the church, an emphasis on sports and the expectation of marriage to a woman. 

“We had to have that conversation of me truly just wanting to be my own authentic person,” Perry says, “and my own authentic person is an African American male who identifies as a he but also still loves another man.”

This journey toward acceptance reached a climactic moment the first time Perry’s father saw him performing as Lola. 

“My father sat in the front row, and I sang the song ‘Not My Father’s Son,’” Perry recalls. “At the end of the song, I looked in the audience, he was in tears, I was in tears, and he gave me a hug after the show and was like, ‘I understand.’”

Kinky Boots balances emotional moments like these with the humor and fantasy of drag. While Perry immediately connected with Lola’s backstory, becoming a drag queen was foreign territory. 

“The body movement, the makeup, the padding, the corsets—I mean I could go on for hours with how much prep work goes into the role!”

Perry had not even watched much of the popular reality TV series RuPaul’s Drag Race before getting the part, but he quickly immersed himself in drag culture, going to Bay Area shows and festivals for character research. He was inspired by the myriad personas drag queens inhabited on any given night.   

In the end, Perry says Lola has become the “dream role of a lifetime,” one character who contains countless shifting identities and, as queer theorists say of drag, embodies a kind of liberating utopia. 

“It becomes therapeutic for the audience,” he says. “They realize they can just be who they want to be in life.”

Kinky Boots

Through Aug 27

Various Times, $35+

City Lights Theatre, San Jose

Addie Mahmassanihttps://www.addiemahmassani.com/
Addie Mahmassani is a poet based in Santa Cruz. She holds a PhD in American Studies from Rutgers University-Newark and is currently an MFA student in creative writing at San Jose State University. There, she is a Teaching Associate as well as the lead poetry editor of Reed Magazine, California's oldest literary journal. She also surfs, sings and loves a part-sheepdog named Lou.

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