Jerry Mitchell is a Tony Award winning director and choreographer, but when you mention these awards, he’s very quick to talk about his other awards.

“I’ve got three Helpmann Awards sitting at home I’m very proud of!” exclaimed Mitchell, who received the 2013 Helpmanns for Best Direction of a Musical, Best Choreography of a Musical and the coveted Best Musical for Legally Blonde.

Kinky Boots is Jerry Mitchell’s latest Broadway success. Nominated for thirteen Tony Awards, it won six, including Best Musical. It’s not surprising then, there was a huge buzz when the Australian premiere of Kinky Boots was first announced in July last year.

Mitchell knew Kinky Boots was something very special from the start as he stood with writer Harvey Fierstein and composer Cyndi Lauper watching the final presentation of the musical to producers and potential investors (to source interest in getting involved in the show).

“We were caught up by the show so much we were in tears – you know – just looking at the story and the characters and the music and the way it just sort of all came together in the end,” recalled Mitchell.

The Broadway success has followed with subsequent seasons in other parts of America and around the world, with all audiences having the same overwhelmingly positive reaction to the show.

Prior to the opening of the London production of Kinky Boots, Mitchell took the cast on a field trip to the actual Tricker’s shoe factory in Northampton where the movie version of Kinky Boots was filmed.

“It was incredible! These are real people. We’re talking about real people. It’s based on a real story, so there’s a lot of emotion in all that,” explained Mitchell.

Jerry Mitchell head

Jerry Mitchell

Jerry Mitchell is both director and choreographer for Kinky Boots and taking on both roles allows for a more seamless show.

“I always say if if the choreographer and director are not the same person the goal is to not to know when the choreography stops and the direction begins. So, of course, when you’re doing it yourself that’s very easy,” Mitchell said, although admitted that doesn’t guarantee it will be seamless.

Kinky Boots is about real people and so too is the cast.

“I just found with this show – with the exception of the six angels and Lola – they’re real people. They’re pedestrian people. And I love finding choreography for just normal people who aren’t per se dancers.”

One of the famous scenes from the musical is the finale to act one: ‘Everybody Say Yeah’.

“We had a ball doing it!” laughed Mitchell.

“There was a lot of research for the treadmill number … well, the conveyor belt number. I had a lot of fun working on that.”

Harvey Fierstein’s original script called for the shoes to arrive on conveyor belts, which were also part of the movie. However, Mitchell explained there are no conveyor belts in the actual Tricker’s Factory where the movie was filmed.

“The life of a shoe is pushed on a trolley!” said Mitchell. “You just follow this trolley around the factory.”

When Mitchell read the conveyor belts in the script he immediately thought of the Okay Go video with the guys on the gym treadmills and wondered, “Oh My God! What if I could get the cast, the factory workers, celebrating the arrival of the first pair of Kinky Boots and have then dancing and singing and running on the treadmills?”

“Then there was a lot of research on building a treadmill for a show that would work eight shows a week, and not stop, and hold the weight of a big factory worker jumping on it,” said Mitchell.

Jerry Mitchell said he likes to end the first act of any show with the audience on a high and wanted Charlie and Lola to have a small success. He recalls composer Cyndi Lauper asking him what he wanted for the number and he replied to her that he wanted them to say, “Yeah we did it” – and so she wrote him a song titled ‘Everybody Say Yeah’.

Mitchell had been working on ‘Everybody Say Yeah’ for about three or four weeks with all the actors, when one of his angel cast, Paul Canaan, had to leave the stage for a fitting. Canaan’s cover filled in during his absence and the song was running when Paul Canaan returned to the theatre, allowing him to watch the number being performed. When he saw the performance Canaan started bawling and said to Mitchell, “Oh my God, what have you done? This is unbelievable!”

Paul Canaan is a very dear friend of Jerry Mitchell and Mitchell recalls Canaan as being the first person he really trusted who told him it was going to be a fantastic number.

Kinky Boots Cast

Photo from overseas production of Kinky Boots

Kinky Boots involves cast members dancing in high-heeled boots, which Mitchell admits was a bit of a challenge for some of the cast at first.

Mitchell explained the boots have a platform of about one inch and then a heel of around five inches – making the whole boot around six inches off the ground. The heels are also much thinner than any standard dance shoe heel because Mitchell wanted the boots to be much more fashion conscious. He worked with costume designer Greg Barnes to ensure the heels, particularly for the two leads, would be very thin.

However, the risk of thin heels was having them get caught in the tracks on the stage for the set, so Mitchell then had to turn to set designer David Rockwell and request there were no tracks in the floor down-stage of the second curtain or wing.

“In the show there’s only one track that goes down-stage of the second wing and it’s a very thin track to guide the conveyor belts. All the rest of the floor is smooth so no-one’s heels will go into the track. That was my biggest concern – people who weren’t necessarily dancers (the factory workers) having to wear the kinky boots and having to dance the finale and not knowing how to manoeuvre tracks like a dancer does,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell said wearing the boots can be tough physically, “The calves and ankles really take a beating if you’re not used to wearing high heels. You really have to stretch your calves and roll your ankles before you get into them.

“We celebrate the difference in bodies and shapes in the show. It was very important that the factory workers looked like factory workers, so we needed to make these boots handle these folks.”

Mitchell believes the character of Don is the secret weapon for success in the show, but feels the story is something all audiences can connect with.

“I think it’s about people coming together to overcome obstacles. I think that everyone comes to this show and they find a character that they’re closest to, but by the end of the show all of them have come together for the greatness of one idea and I think that is what people respond to.”

Rehearsals for Kinky Boots have commenced this week, ahead of the first preview performance at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne’s East End Theatre District on October 12th and the official opening night on October 22nd.

http://kinkybootsthemusical.com.au/

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