On Stage: Time for some ‘Kinky Boots’

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By Denny Dyroff, Staff Writer, The Times

With the arrival of autumn’s cooler temperatures, many people are thinking that it’s time to put away sandals and opt for warmer footwear.

Area fans of musical theater, meanwhile, know that it’s time for an entirely different type of footwear – that it’s time for “Kinky Boots.”

“Kinky Boots” is a Broadway musical with music and lyrics by Tony, Emmy and Grammy-winner Cyndi Lauper and a book by Tony-winner Harvey Fierstein.

The Broadway production opened in 2013 and scored well at the Tony Awards — 13 nominations and six wins, including Best Musical and Best Score for Lauper.

Now on National Tour in addition to Broadway, “Kinky Boots” has arrived in Philadelphia and will run through from October 3-8 at the Academy of Music (Broad and Locust streets, Philadelphia, 215-731-3333, www.kimmelcenter.org).

The popular show is being presented as part of the Kimmel Center’s “Broadway Philadelphia” series.

The inspirational story, which is actually a true story, tells the tale of a shoe factory owner facing bankruptcy who works to turn his business around with help from Lola, a fabulous entertainer in need of some sturdy stilettos.

“Kinky Boots” is based on the 2005 British film of the same name which was inspired by a 1999 episode of the BBC2 documentary television series “Trouble at the Top.”

It followed the story of Steve Pateman, who was struggling to save his family-run shoe factory from closure and decided to produce fetish footwear for men.

The show is lively, colorful, fast-paced and highly entertaining. The touring production showcases stellar young actors who can sing, dance and nail their roles. And, it is fueled by an evening’s worth of great songs by Lauper.

The all-star cast features Adam du Plessis in the pivotal role of Don, the show’s bully.

“I’ve been involved in theater my whole life,” said du Plessis, during a phone interview Saturday afternoon from a tour stop in Kansas City, Missouri.

“I grew up in Port Elizabeth (South Africa) and started singing when I was six. I’ve been doing theater productions since I was 11. I studied drama at the University of Cape Town and then played in “Phantom of the Opera” in South Africa.

“After that, I did ‘Rock of Ages’ on the Norwegian Cruise Line. I did the cruise line shows for five years. Then, I moved to the states a year-and-a-half ago and got cast in the National Tour of ‘Annie.’

“I auditioned for this tour back in June and got the role of Dom. Ironically, ‘Kinky Boots,” is the first show I saw on Broadway.”

“Kinky Boots” is a show with a beautiful heart. It offers a great message of love and acceptance.

“It’s enormous fun to be in this show,” said du Plessis. “And, it’s enormous fun to watch. There is such a great message about acceptance.

“The character I play is the bully of the show. There are a lot of people unfamiliar with drag queens and I represent them. I show them how you can learn acceptance.

“Fans’ favorite moments are when the message is so clear – that you don’t have to be weak to accept someone different than you are.”

Video link for “Kinky Boots” — https://youtu.be/RmJ8Ga7p730.

“Kinky Boots” will run from October 3-8 at the Academy of Music. Ticket prices range from $25-$115.

Luke Elliot

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will host a pair of interesting but very different music acts early this week – Luke Elliot on October 2 and the Ike Willis Project on October 4.

Luke Elliot is a singer-songwriter who grew up in New Jersey and honed his craft in Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York.

Now, Elliot is on tour in support of his new album and making his Sellersville Theater debut.

Elliot released his debut full-length album, “Dressed for the Occasion,” on August 18 via Jullian Records. The album was produced by John Agnello, known for his work with Kurt Vile, Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. among many others.

The album features the single, “Get ’Em While They’re Hot,” a new version of the song from his first critically-acclaimed EP, “Death of a Widow.”

Elliot’s penchant for storytelling and fascination with topics a bit out-of-the norm is front-and-center on the debut album, and match the songwriter’s rather unique trajectory.

Signing with former Rihanna manager Christa Shaub lead to a chance meeting with an influential Norwegian journalist that would send his career on the fast-track.

“I’m here at home in Jersey City and the band flies in from Norway on Thursday,” said Elliot, during a phone interview last Tuesday.

“A little while ago, I met a journalist from Norway. She wrote about me. I went to Norway to do some shows and couldn’t leave.”

Elliot was soon signed to Norway’s Indie Recordings, which released “Dressed for the Occasion” in 2016 throughout Europe. The album quickly made it to #7 Norway’s iTunes chart.

“I played several tours with different members of this crew. We’ve toured all over Europe,” said Elliot. “All of the guys are from Oslo. The band includes a guitarist, a bass player, a keyboardist and a multi-instrumentalist who plays lap steel, dobro, pedal steel and cello. I’m doing a one-month tour in the state with these guys. Then we tour Europe including Sweden, Greece and Turkey. My music has gone over really well with European audiences. I lived in Oslo for eight months. Now, this is my first time playing with this band on my home turf.”

The songs on “Dressed for the Occasion” will be new to American fans but not to the band and Elliot’s Euro fans.

“I recorded the album two-and-a-half years ago,” said Elliot, grew in the Princeton area in Lawrence Township, New Jersey. “It was released in Europe a year ago. We wanted to make sure we toured here with the album.

“We try to play the songs different all the time. I try to not go back and listen to the album. I’m not concerned about playing the songs the way they were recorded. It’s important to make them fresh and new every time.”

Elliot’s songs are mostly based on stories but there is a lot more to them than just the narratives.

“I’m more a songwriter – but the storyteller aspect does figure in,” said Elliot. “Recently, the song starts with the melody and then the words over it. Sometimes though, it is the story that comes first.

“Frequently, musicians get lost trying to do too many things at once. My primary focus is just music.”

Video link for Luke Elliot — https://youtu.be/PzOqRbHrtzs.

The show at Sellersville, which has John Beacher as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 and $25.

Ike Willis

Guitarist Ike Willis appeared on countless albums and tours with the legendary Frank Zappa, and recently returned to the rock scene as the leader of the Ike Willis Project.
Joining Willis on the tour is another extraordinarily talented guitarist, Grammy-winner Micki Free, who will be opening the shows for the Ike Willis Project at the beginning of October.
Both artists will be performing separate sets (and sharing the same backing band). Willis will be performing the material from his two solo releases along with doing some of the Zappa material he is most known for. Both artists will come together onstage at the end of the night for a finale.

Willis is a guitarist who was a regular sideman for Zappa and first joined his band in 1978. He remained with the band for years but didn’t tour with Zappa in 1981 and 1982. He rejoined Zappa for his final two tours in 1984 and 1988.

Willis currently tours with several Zappa tribute bands, including ZAPPATiKA, Ossi Duri, Project/Object, Pojama People and Ugly Radio Rebellion. Some of his notable collaborations with Zappa are “Joe’s Garage,” “Tinsel Town Rebellion,” and “You Are What You Is.” He also was a character and narrator in Zappa’s off-Broadway-styled conceptual musical “Thing-Fish.”

In a phone interview last week from his home in Van Nuys, California when he was asked how he was doing, Willis replied, “So-so – trying to hang in there like us old folks do. We’re still here.”

Actually, Willis is way more than just “still here.”

He is busy recording new material as well as touring with bands playing his material and bands keeping Zappa’s music alive.

“I’m rehearsing for the tour and working on an album,” said Willis, a native of St. Louis, Missouri.

“I’m three albums behind. I have three albums worth of material that hopefully I’ll be able to finish in the next six-to-nine months. It all depends on the tour schedule – and my house-hunting.

“We’re out being a good old rock-and-roll band. With my material, it’s hard to describe. I call it basic boiler-room rock-and-roll. It’s a five-piece band with two guitars, bass, keyboards and drums.”

The band’s all-star lineup includes guitarist JP Cervoni (Buddy Miles and The Babys), two-time Grammy nominee drummer Duane Waider, keyboardist Shane Cotter (The Chambers Brothers and Bo Diddley) and bassist Robert Byrnes (Michael McDonald).

“I moved out west when Frank Zappa took me from my dorm room at Washington University in St. Louis to California to audition for his band,” said Willis.

“The first time I heard Zappa was when I was 10 in 1965 and my neighbor waved a copy of ‘Freak Out’ at me. I had already started my own bands when I was eight or nine.

“I was listening to Motown, Hendrix, classical music and Beatles. I was a big Beatles fanatic. And, my mom was a jazz singer who performed with acts like Ahmad Jamal and Lou Rawls.

“So, I was exposed to a lot of jazz as well as rock and other styles of music. All that in my background made it easy to play with Zappa.

“On this tour, I’m playing mostly my original material. And, there will be a sprinkling of Frank Zappa stuff.”

Video link for the Ike Willis Project — http://www.ikewillis.daw10.com.

Video link for Micki Free — Https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAl9xxzXzOw.
The show at Sellersville, which has Micki Free as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 and $39.50.

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