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'Kinky Boots' gives Kyle Taylor Parker a leg up on the competition

'Kinky Boots' gives Kyle Taylor Parker a leg up on the competition

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Kyle Taylor Parker says making his Broadway debut in the musical “Kinky Boots” was a dream come true, but also “a huge responsibility.”

“Everyone in the show is so fantastic and I wanted to be that fantastic,” he remembers thinking during the curtain call. “I realized it wasn’t a stopping point.”

First cast in the ensemble, Parker was named understudy to star Billy Porter, then got the lead in the national touring company. The show, as a result, has been a gift – a very big gift.

The part? A real star turn. Parker plays Lola, a drag queen who encourages a failing shoe manufacturer to create boots that men in drag can wear onstage. The company changes its focus and, in the process, learns plenty about acceptance.

For Parker, that theme resonates.

“As a young performer, I have so much to prove. But, throughout the rehearsal process with Harvey (Fierstein, the writer) and Jerry (Mitchell, the director), I learned I have nothing to prove, only to share. Once I accepted their offer, everything just opened up for me, so it’s a parallel story.”

Mitchell and composer Cyndi Lauper “pushed me to make the part my own.”

When he started the tour, Parker realized he was bringing a part of the Broadway DNA to another company. “But I got to get my groove on, away from New York.” When he returned to Broadway to replace the vacationing Porter, his fellow actors saw the change and “it was cool. They saw how I took ownership of the role and how I didn’t shy away from the differences from Billy.”

Porter, who won a Tony for his work, saw Parker’s performance “and he loved it.”

Now, it’s just a matter of weeks before Parker says goodbye. He leaves the show in November and will begin his search for the next role. “It’ll be bittersweet, but we’ll see what happens. I definitely want to do film and television, but the way to do that is through theater. New York is the place to do all those things.”

As a toddler, Parker watched TV commercials and tried to recreate them. He got parts in community theater in Milwaukee, his home, and “right out of high school, went straight to New York.” He studied at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, earning his equity card before graduation. “I got a gig right out of school and then I waited a bit. I was auditioning against Billy Porter and Tituss Burgess. Now, I look back and say, ‘What an honor.’ It was a time to learn.”

Parker was in the touring company of “In the Heights” when “Kinky Boots” came calling.

“The show wasn’t even really created, but we had a version of the script,” he says. Parker did some of the Lola scenes and songs and was told he would be called back.

Porter got the lead role, but Parker was cast as one of the Angels, a group of drag queens who test-drive the footwear.

The process, he says, was fascinating, particularly when the creators cut and added songs. “You learn the show better than anyone else. And when material gets cut, it’s still part of the character’s history. When you’re part of the original company, you understand where things are born.”

Watching Porter, Parker says he often tried to figure out what he was doing and why. “I always look at understudying as a puzzle. Instead of saying, ‘I’m going to do this just like Billy,’ I wanted to understand why the joke is funny and how he got there. I deconstructed it.”

And, yes, the analysis paid off. While Parker went on a handful of times while he was the understudy, he was able to make Lola his own on the road.

To make the show’s fast changes, Parker has his own “glam” squad – a dresser and a makeup artist.

Thanks to the Broadway run, walking and dancing in high heels has been a breeze. “But I have respect for anyone who can pull off a high heel,” Parker says. “We really trained on those.”

Even now, a year after starting the lead role, Parker says it isn’t easy to do. “But you know where you’re going. It’s an art and, yes, it’s emotional.”

Occasionally, the actor may note small changes between audiences throughout the country, “but it all adds up to the same thing. At the end of the show, they’re dancing, they’re on their feet and they’re crying.”

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