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Top Hat slips on ‘Kinky Boots’

The musical “Kinky Boots” may seem like an odd choice for a theater company that got its start 30 years ago presenting a Passion Play for a church’s Easter celebration.

Brian Palumbo of Top Hat Productions doesn’t see it that way. Dismissing the show as “a drag queen musical” misses its message that self-acceptance leads to acceptance of others.

“Like any other culture, if you open yourself up and allow yourself to learn from it, there’s a lot you can learn and nothing to be afraid of,” he said. “If we can get past stereotypes and prejudices, we can make this world a better place.”

Palumbo has wanted to stage the musical, which opens Friday for a three–weekend run at Fairview Arts & Outreach Center, since he saw the show during its Broadway run. “Kinky Boots” ran for more than 2,500 performances and won six Tony Awards including best new musical.

“I really didn’t know anything about it,” he said. “In the beginning with all the drag queens, I thought, ‘What’s this going to be about?’ But as the story unfolded, I knew it was a story we had to tell.”

The musical, with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein, is the story of a man, Charley Price (played by Anthony Villa), who inherits his father’s failing shoe factory in working-class Northhampton, England. When he meets Lola (Anthony Woods-Mitchell), a drag queen in need of some footwear that is both stunning and sturdy, he finds a way not only to save the business but to re-evaluate his relationship with his father.

“I would say if you’re leery about seeing the show, you’re absolutely the person who should come to the show,” Palumbo said. “It’s not at all what you expect. Cyndi Lauper wrote the music for the entire show. It’s like a party on stage. Even in the ballads, she does such an amazing job with both the lyrics and music. It comes together beautifully to tell the story of the show.”

The rest of the cast features Ben Bogan, David Brown, Natalie Canacci, Jeremy Davis, Liam Levendosk, Brandy Johanntges, Jessica Ludovici, Becky McConnell, Kaleb McFarland, Adrienne Millard, Brayden Norvell, Christopher Scott, Isaiah Sheldon, Brittany Storey, Brian Suchora, Phill Taylor, Tricia Terlesky, Kye Thomas and Julie Villa.

Palumbo directs the musical with Anthony Ruggiero as musical director and Julie Palumbo Villa and Brittany Storey as choreographers.

“Kinky Boots” is a big show with a large cast for Fairview’s intimate performance space.

“We challenge ourselves to do big productions on our small stage,” Palumbo said.

It’s also a costly show. The drag characters require multiple costumes and wigs, and there also is the title character — the eye-popping footwear. Palumbo said they invested in making the boots themselves for the show.

“We are the proud owners of the all the shoes we need for the show,” he said. “We had a couple of donors who donated specifically toward the boots because they wanted the message (of the musical) to get out.”

The theater plans to rent out its boots out to other theaters to recoup the investment and to generate income for the theater.

Top Hat Productions is a non-profit, all-volunteer Christian organization that uses the money raised from tickets sales to provide monthly meals for the homeless through the Dorothy Day House and offer a free summer theater workshop for children ages 6 to 10 as well as other charitable activities.

If you go …

WHAT: Top Hat Productions — “Kinky Boots”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday through Oct. 15

WHERE: Fairview Arts & Outreach Center, 4220 Youngstown Poland Road, Youngstown

HOW MUCH: Tickets are $18.75 and are available online at tophatproductions.thundertix.com

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