Stephen Oremus on the empowering message of Kinky Boots

To those interested in the backstage and creative machinations of Broadway musical theatre, Stephen Oremus is a name that continues to pop up throughout some of the most critically and fan-acclaimed work of the last fifteen years. Working on original productions of Wicked, The Book of Mormon, 9 to 5, Avenue Q and Kinky Boots in various musical roles (as orchestrator, arranger, conductor and vocal or musical direction), Oremus has travelled the world with some of these productions and has worked recently on both Kinky Boots and Book of Mormon for Australian audiences.

Oremus spoke to AussieTheatre about Kinky Boots’ Australian turn before opening the production some time ago, and his comments about the social message of Kinky Boots are more relevant than ever as the production opens in Brisbane amidst a highly politicised campaign for marriage equality.

Have you discovered anything new about the show since working with the Australian cast?

It’s always so thrilling to do this show in other countries or cultures, and with people who have never been exposed to it, and I think that what is exciting and kind of electric about it is that Australia is pretty much where America was at with marriage equality and gay rights when we first put up the Broadway show. There’s an electricity about the issue and the impending votes that are happening and what not (the plebiscite, I’ve been reading all about it.) I think that what is surprising is to watch people, the people that are involved in the show kind of discover the joy of the piece, and what is even more thrilling is watching them when they get in front of an audience, when they start actually communicating this show, it’s this incredible explosion of joy and it has a lot to say, in the best way. It’s coming to Australia at the perfect time.

Below: the cast of Kinky Boots farewell Sydney in “Say I Do Down Under” shirts, supporting the marriage equality campaign in Australia.

 

Have the characters or scenarios in Kinky Boots taught you anything about yourself? What aspect of the show resonates most with you?

I think there are a lot of things about the show that have always resonated for me. I am an out, gay man and I have a husband and a child, and a very loving and supporting family, so while I approach my life from a very different perspective of some of the characters in Kinky Boots, I think that so much of Lola’s journey of teaching people that you don’t have to hide, that our differences make us stronger as people is something that has always resonated with me. It’s something that I haven’t really had to think about, […]  because I work in the theatre, I don’t feel scared to tell people that I’m gay, and it’s something that is a huge part of our cultural history as LGBT Americans. I’m very connected to that history and I think it’s a very important and exciting thing to bring that to new audiences, even if the smallest take away is a conservative uncle who would never look at a gay person, or you know, the person who says, “oh wow, that show changed my mind”… Kinky Boots is about family and community and it’s about love and joy, and all of those things are things that I’ve been very proud to insert into my work and my life. There’s no one particular character that resonates, but the overall lessons of the show that we all felt really strongly about, the six things that are told to the audience at the end of the show in ‘Just Be‘. All of those things are so cathartic to the audience in such a beautiful way after they have sat through the journey of our show.

What message do you want the average Australian audience member of Kinky Boots to take away from the show, and what do you want a young audience member who is perhaps questioning their gender identity or sexuality to get out of the show?

Oremus (middle) with Cyndi Lauper and Bill Wittman during recording of Kinky Boots‘ Broadway album. Picture credit to BroadwayWorld.

I would say that this show has the opportunity to open some minds for the average Australian viewer, and I would hope that it’s going to be the type of show that people are excited about and will tell their friends about. I hope it will have a large audience, because it really is about acceptance and love and the unexpected magic of being who you are. In that respect, I think that any young person questioning their gender identity or sexual preference, it’s a show that reaffirms something they already know, which is there is power in being yourself, in putting yourself out there and letting people know who you are. It’s always very empowering and incredibly beautiful to just be who you are. It really is exciting (and I don’t mean to be blasé when I speak about it), but for me, personally, it’s not something that I think about or that people ask me about, because it’s something that has been part of my life for so long. I had my own trials and tribulations as a young man, but the truth is, it’s a beautiful place to get to be, and the more people that we can empower and help get there, the better.

I’ve heard stories of gay or trans kids taking their unaccepting parents to the show on Broadway and suddenly experiencing a revolution in their relationships. Australians are kind of split down the middle right now, with some of our population supporting ultra-conservative views and others being very progressive. Do you believe that this show has the power to bring both groups of people together?

The one thing I would say is that this show is not about trans, it’s not about gay, what makes it so beautiful is that it’s about other. Something “other” than what you’re used to. And that is the most amazing way to kind of get to those people that wouldn’t see it if it was really about those deeper LGBT issues, you just wouldn’t get those people in the seats. But that’s not the point of the story, the story is about the relationships that the characters form and their bond, and I think that what is important through all of this is just the humanity. It’s all about our human need to connect and love and come together in the best possible way. The journey of our characters in Kinky Boots is just such a sweet and beautiful emotional journey, but in the long run, it just reminds you that even the most narrow minded people can have a big heart underneath, and that’s what we should all hope for. It’s also much more simply about not hiding who you are, because that’s what Lola is, Lola is what she is. She’s not trans, she’s not a man or a woman, she’s a drag queen and that’s her happy place, it’s how she expresses herself and it’s about how people process that. It’s a beautiful thing that in the long run, everyone can come together and be a big happy family.

What feedback or response do you need from the Australian audiences of Kinky Boots to consider the production a success?

I mean, I don’t need the audience to tell me whether this show is good or not, I think that we are so proud of the piece we have created and of our Australian cast, and all we can do is be the best coaches and cheerleaders we can to help guide them to the finish line. I think in the long run, the audiences will go crazy (as they often do, as they have done all over the world for this piece), but the goal is to make sure the message is clear, pure and joyful. I think no matter what, that’s going to shine through. If the audiences love it and jump to their feet as I’m hoping they will, even better.

Kinky Boots has enjoyed a successful run in both Melbourne and Sydney, and will open to Brisbane audiences at QPAC this week. Tickets can be booked at kinkybootsthemusical.com.au.

Feature image by Willam Periman/The Star-Ledger.

There are no comments

Join the Conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Author

Maddi is a performer who has been too scared to stand in the spotlight for the last few years, so she channels her need for love and appreciation into writing about the theatre instead. An energetic consumer of musical theatre, she is currently earning a degree in journalism and teaches voice in her small hometown. Maddi is normally covered in cat fur, has an opinion on everything, and in the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, is not throwing away her shot.

Maddi has written 85 articles on AussieTheatre | Read more articles by

logo_at_badge
Stephen Oremus on the empowering message of Kinky Boots
banner