Kinky Boots - London

Cyndi Lauper & Harvey Fierstein's Tony-winning musical crosses the pond!

West End Star Oliver Tompsett on How Starring in Kinky Boots Affects His Footwear Choices, Meeting Cyndi Lauper and More

West End Star Oliver Tompsett on How Starring in Kinky Boots Affects His Footwear Choices, Meeting Cyndi Lauper and More
Simon Anthony Rhoden & Oliver Tompsett in "Kinky Boots"
(Photo: Helen Maybanks)

Oliver Tompsett is a West End alum of such musicals as We Will Rock You, Wicked, Rock of Ages and Guys and Dolls. In June, he joined the Tony and Olivier Award-winning musical Kinky Boots to play Charlie Price, with Simon Anthony-Rhoden continuing as the [first-rate] Lola. Broadway.com caught up with Tompsett to find out how he was adjusting to high heels and more at the Adelphi Theatre.

As a new recruit to the production, how is it going so far?
Really good. It’s such a high-octane show with a nice balance in that it has a book that has real heart but also lots of glitz and glamour that comes with the show pieces and Lola’s Angels.

Does your casting in this feel like a date with destiny?
When I first heard the recording and knew it was coming to Britain, I kind of thought maybe it was something I could do, given the pop tenor stuff I have done before. But timing-wise it just never worked out, and also I’m not sure if I had come straight into this after Rock of Ages and We Will Rock You if I’d have work in anything ever again [laughs].

Is that because of typecasting?
Yes, and the fact that in this industry you have to keep pushing people’s perceptions of you; if you want to do different stuff, you have to show them you can. It was important to me that I came to this having just done a film and also Guys and Dolls, which is a bit more legit, so it’s not just pop rock material all the time. This felt like a perfect opportunity to return to the style of music that I do love to sing.

Can you sense from the stage the show's inclusive embrace?
I was told in advance that you can feel the audience grow and change with you. They come in with an idea of what they’re coming to see, and by the end they are totally rethinking their outlook and perspective on drag queens and the LGBT community. You just feel the shift, and that is why the show is doing so well: the message it sends out is fantastic.

How are you finding the physical demands—those heels, for instance?
I started out [in musical theater] as a dancer, or at least a jack of all trades, so I’ve always found the physical side of things fairly easy. When I tried on the boots for the first time, it felt to me like ice skating, and I had played ice hockey when I was younger so it didn’t feel quite as strange as I was expecting.

Does it make a difference that Charlie doesn’t have the boots on all that much?
I only have to wear the boots for about 10 minutes as opposed to a lot of the other characters; it’s enough for me to get my high heel kicks but not enough for me to damage my back.

Did you meet [composer-lyricist] Cyndi Lauper?
She surprised us in the rehearsal room and watched us do a few bits and bobs: she’s a smart cookie and obviously a highly successful woman who knows exactly what she intended with the music and the lyrics, so it was nice to hear where the show came from organically.

Did Cyndi have any notes for you?
I sang [showstopper] “Soul of a Man,” and the only thing she said to me was, “Wow, that was fantastic! Are you OK?” You have a kind of breakdown during that song, and I was thinking to myself, “I’ve got to pull out all the stops now because this is Cyndi Lauper” And she hadn’t even seen us on stage yet! I found her very kind and insightful and encouraging and—if anything—helpful rather than critical.

Is it a difficult sing?
It’s not the singing that’s tiring; it’s jumping between the huge chunks of dialogue into song, which has been the change for me. I’ve done things with big books and shows with lots of songs, but the combination has been difficult for me. It’s about being disciplined and smart and not putting too much pressure on yourself, really.

Has playing Charlie affected your own footwear?
No. I’m a dad of two and I will put on the closest and comfiest pair of shoes I can when I head out. I do have a pair of smart, red-wine patent-leather shoes for when I do my concert work, and I get them out at Christmas. Other than that, my shoes are not flamboyant at all—but give me a month or two, and I may have a different answer.

Have your kids seen you in full thigh-high splendor?
My daughter is only 18 months old but my son is five and he came into rehearsals the other day when his mum [Michelle Potter] had a casting for a commercial, so he came and spent some time with me.

What was his reaction?
I think he just found the fact that I was wearing high heels very funny. We’ve never told him what’s wrong or right and have never brought him up to believe that men should dress one way and women should dress another. He said to me, “They’re ladies’ shoes, daddy,” and I said, “No they’re not; anyone can wear what they want.” Even without parenting, society somehow finds a way to creep in and give him that thought.

Having done so many Broadway titles in London, do you keep tabs on what is happening in New York?
I do keep my eyes on the new shows but so often it’s just all about timing, and so many things. By the time you’ve looked at it or it gets here, you’re 10 years too old or may be doing something else. I’ve found that worrying that far in advance is pointless.