Monday, April 13, 2015

Broadway Buzz: Assembling a Dream Team for Kinky Boots


Kinky Boots, the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, was created by a dream team of talented and original artists; pop icon Cyndi Lauper, who won a Tony for her infectious score, four-time Tony-winning librettist Harvey Fierstein, and director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell, who also took home a Tony for his dances. “Because we’re all different, we brought in what we know and we all worked together to make it right – to make you laugh and cry,” says Lauper.  “Harvey is such a good storyteller and so is Jerry.  They have a lot of heart and I feel very blessed to be among them.”

Based on an independent film inspired by true events, Kinky Boots tells the story of Charlie, the owner of a failing English shoe factory, teaming up with Lola, a drag artist, to serve a niche market – making sturdy boots for cross-dressers.  But a successful Broadway show
and, make no mistake, Kinky Boots is a huge hit is anything but a niche market – it needs to speak to a wide and diverse audience.  Jerry Mitchell says he knew the musical would speak to a lot of people, the moment he watched the film. “I got very emotionally caught up in the story of the fathers and the sons,” he says.  “And I thought, 'well that to me is the nucleus of something really strong,' because it’s a universal idea for us: how do we measure up in our fathers’ eyes?” 

That’s certainly the way producer Daryl Roth felt when she first saw the film at Sundance in 2006.  Within a year, she had optioned the musical rights and brought producer Hal Luftig on board. The two enlisted not only Mitchell, but playwright Harvey Fierstein, who says he was attracted to the intimate story at the center; the “bromance” between Charlie and Lola, a.k.a. Simon. “The real love story here is these two gentlemen who become friends,” says Fierstein. "And I thought it was a good opportunity to do this realistically.”  He was also attracted to the theme of self-acceptance, which translates not just to the two lead characters, but all the workers in the factory:  “It’s the human stories; that’s what theater’s for.”

Fierstein called Lauper, who he had known socially.  She was drawn to the project, as well: “It’s a story about an outsider.”   Lauper enthusiastically signed on and she, Fierstein and Mitchell began a four-and-a-half year creative odyssey to translate Kinky Boots to the stage. “I don’t keep track,” explains Mitchell. “Time to me is not the point.  Getting it right is the point.” 

Cyndi Lauper, who grew up listening to Rodgers + Hammerstein cast albums, took to writing for characters and dramatic situations, like a duck to water. “Everybody asks the question about pop songs and theater songs,” she says. “I just think that, in some ways, they’re very similar; and in other ways, they’re not.  You need to be economical; you have to say something simply.  And you have to have your story – a beginning, middle and end – because if the song goes nowhere, well, what are you talking about?”

Harvey Fierstein, a veteran of several musicals, including the smash hit La Cage aux Folles, gave Lauper an education in writing for the theater. “Her lessons were a lot of fun for me,” he says, “frustrating sometimes, but fun, on the other hand.”  In particular, he showed Lauper how to weave music and dialogue effectively, something she resisted at first.  Fierstein told her, “when it’s done right, you will never notice, but the show must move on.”  A perfect example is the elaborate and catchy opening sequence, “The Most Beautiful Thing in the World,” which they crafted with Jerry Mitchell.  Fierstein explains, “that tells the story of all the characters, in relationship to shoes.  Everyone in that opening number is defined by a pair of shoes and you know who they are.”

Although the show is mostly set in the workaday world of a shoe factory, the dream team wanted to create a sense of joy and uplift for the audience, in the way only a Broadway musical can do.  The first act finale, “Everybody Say Yeah,” is an explosion of energy.  Mitchell has the cast dancing on moving conveyor belts, which had been used to deliver shoes earlier in the musical.  “We had so much fun creating that number,” exclaims Mitchell, “because it is a celebration of making the first pair of kinky boots and everyone in the factory gets involved.” 

And the show’s final numbers, “Raise You Up/ Just Be” literally does that to the audience every night. “They’re standing up, cheering, dancing and singing,” says Jerry Mitchell. “And they don’t want to leave the theater!  That’s sort of a magical moment.  And then, when they do walk out of the theater, you know, they’re all abuzz.  That’s the kind of joy that is rare in a musical.”  

See the joyous musical born out of the famous collaboration live on stage May 19-24. Find more information and ticket details here.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Broadway Buzz: Designing Kinky Boots

In a show called Kinky Boots, “you’ve gotta get the boots right,” says Gregg Barnes, costume and footwear designer for the Tony Award-winning musical. The show, based on a real story and independent film about a failing English shoe factory which turned its fortunes around by niche-marketing sturdy boots for drag artists, has become a sold-out Broadway phenomenon. With a book by Harvey Fierstein and a Tony winning score by pop icon Cyndi Lauper, Kinky Boots relies heavily on its visual designs, both fabulous and gritty; sets by David Rockwell and costumes by Barnes. Both creators credit Jerry Mitchell, the director and Tony-winning choreographer of the show, for pushing them to come up with creative solutions to difficult tasks; in Rockwell’s case, creating a realistic factory setting, which could also become a nightclub in London and a runway in Milan, and, in Barnes’ case, making everyday clothing for factory workers, fantastical frocks for drag performers and, of course, those boots. 

“This is my seventh collaboration with Jerry,” says Rockwell. “We just get together and play and respect each other’s opinions and listen. I try to come back with what he asked for, plus some sort of surprise. I think in a good design process, one plus one doesn’t equal two, it equals four or five.” Barnes concurs, adding that the director did a lot of research on the real shoe factory in Northampton, where Kinky Boots takes place: “I have to tip my hat to Jerry Mitchell. He’s really good about doing his homework.”

Mitchell provided both Rockwell and Barnes with photos and stories, which they incorporated in their designs. For a show as joyous as Kinky Boots, it’s surprising that its primary setting is a factory. But Rockwell wanted to create a realistic world for the storytelling. “I was inspired by the kind of romance of late 18th/19th century factories and ours is an abstractive collage,” says Rockwell. He created upper windows which are tinted in slight colors, to “create a place that can be very optimistic when it’s back-lit or very atmospheric when it’s saturated in darker colors.” 

Jerry Mitchell also came up with the idea of using conveyor belts, which are used as part of the workaday setting, and turning them into treadmills, which the cast dances on for the raucous first act finale, “Everybody Say Yeah.” Rockwell says it “took eight or nine months of R&D to get right,” adding that it’s his favorite moment in the show. “It is magical, because it enables Jerry and the cast to take something that you bought into throughout the show up to that point as a conveyor belt for making shoes, and turning it into this unbelievable production number.”

Likewise, Barnes found inspiration from Mitchell’s snapshots of factory workers, like an Elvis-obsessed stitcher in a mullet and colorful outfit. “What was fascinating was that – this light bulb goes off – every single person in the story, be it drag queen or factory worker, has a very unique thing to add. If you think of the recipe, they’re all ingredients.”

But Barnes’ biggest challenge turned out to be those thigh-high boots with six inch stiletto heels. “What’s really funny about our experience with Kinky Boots is that my team, and the cobblers who made the boots, we had the exact same story as in the musical,” explains Barnes. “Everything they talk about, in terms of reinforcing the heel and all of that stuff, we had the same learning curve!”

And those boots need to be durable, to support the six-foot tall dancers doing elaborate routines. Says Barnes: “We’re asking them to do slam splits and dancing and quick changes, being carted up and down stairs in baskets. And we have to make them look as if they’re brand new every night, yet survive eight shows a week.” Barnes adds that, after lots of experimentation and broken heels, they ultimately came up with designs that are so reliable, they’ve barely had to replace any boots in the musical’s Broadway run of over a year.

As for this touring production, both David Rockwell and Gregg Barnes promise it will be very much the same show as on Broadway. “We always say that the tour looks better than the original production,” jokes Barnes. “I don’t know if that’s always true, but you learn so much.” Barnes is taking the opportunity to redesign and improve many of the outfits. And Rockwell has worked to “maintain the real quality of the set,” while making it lighter, so it’s easier to assemble and take down and fit into the six trucks which will accompany the cast and crew on its cross-country journey. Certain elements have changed, but Rockwell says “none of those are things that an audience member looking at New York and looking at the tour will discern.”

Both men say they enjoy the enthusiasm audiences have shown for Kinky Boots. “You know, it’s amazing,” says Barnes. “I feel the same way. You can feel it walking into that theater. I think the audience comes so primed to have this joyous experience and it always rewards that.”

See the conveyor belts, boots and more in action May 19-24 at the Orpheum. Click here for tickets and more information.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Broadway Buzz: The Huge-Hearted Hit with Real-Life Inspiration

You may know that Kinky Boots is based on a 2005 film, but did you know that neither the film nor the musical would exist without an Englishman named Steve Pateman? 

Here's how Kinky Boots went from "inspired by" to "inspiring!"

Kinky Boots -- both the movie and the musical -- follows Charlie Price, an aspiring young businessman who is forced to give up his dreams of living the London city life in order to save his late father’s family business in Northern England. When Charlie suddenly inherits his father’s bankrupt Price & Sons shoe factory, he finds unexpected inspiration in the form of Lola, a fabulous entertainer in need of some sturdy stilettos. As Charlie and Lola work to turn the factory around, this unlikely pair finds that they have more in common than they ever dreamed possible… and discovers that when you change your mind about someone, you can change your whole world.

At the real-life W.J. Brooks in Northamptonshire, England, Steve Pateman was struggling to keep the family business afloat against high export costs. Steve received a call from Sue Sheppard at Lacies in Folkestone, a seller of transgender glamour wear, who told him about her trouble finding women's shoes in men's sizes. Steve began manufacturing these "kinky boots," and though his factory eventually did close, that phone call sparked an international sensation when the BBC turned Steve's story into a documentary in 1999.

While Kinky Boots reflects quite a bit of W.J. Brooks' history, the biggest addition to the tale is Lola, the drag queen who meets Charlie in a chance encounter and and turns out to be the one person who can help Charlie become the man he’s meant to be. While Lacies' Sue did point Steve in a new direction, the heart of Kinky Boots the musical is Lola and Charlie's friendship. They come together to save a business but also grow as people as they come to reconcile their personal differences and their past relationships with their fathers.

So what about the film versus the musical? Kinky Boots stays true to the movie while adding Cyndi Lauper's Tony-winning score and Harvey Fierstein's storytelling magic. The film's quieter themes of friendship and father/son relationships are brought to the forefront of the musical.

While Steve's story has been adapted in the 16 years since the documentary aired, he told the BBC in a 2013 article that "the appeal of the story has never changed."

"What people love is the warmth of the relationships in the factory, which was always a sort of family."

Read more about the true story behind Kinky Boots here

We hope you'll join us for a celebration of standing up for what you believe May 19-24, live on the Orpheum stage. For more information, visit

Monday, April 6, 2015

Spotlight: An Inside Look into the New Centre for Performing Arts & Education

A little more than a year ago, the Orpheum Theatre broke ground on the Centre for Performing Arts & Education. Where a parking lot once stood, a gorgeous 39,000-square-foot building rises with gleaming glass windows and much-needed space for the Orpheum's community and education programs. 

We invite you to take an insiders' tour of the new Orpheum Centre in our new video. Alice Roberts, our Vice President of Community and Education, shows you how the Centre will allow us to expand our programs in the following areas:
  • Master classes taught by touring Broadway cast members
  • Adult Lecture Series by local and national arts leaders
  • Professional development workshops for educators
  • Musical theatre intensive workshops for students
  • Technical training in sound and lighting design for students, schools and local non-profits
  • Non-profit management training for local organizations 

Here's a quick timeline of milestones in a landmark period for the Orpheum: 

January 2011: The Memphis Development Foundation approves the expansion of the theatre's student and teacher programs. 

August 2011: Bologna and Associates is hired to research the feasibility of building on the parking lot next to the theatre.
October 2011: An agreement is reached between the Orpheum and MLGW to buy the lot 

March 2012: The adjacent lot is officially purchased.

August 2012: The Crump Firm is selected to design the building.

March 2013: A sustainability study is commissioned to determine the needs and operations of a potential student center.

December 2013: Clearing of the parking lot begins.
March 2014: The Orpheum and Memphis Development Foundation break ground on the anticipated Centre for Performing Arts & Education.

Summer 2014: The steel framework is put into place and the building begins to take shape.

Fall 2014: The roof and walls begin going up.

February 2015: The glass for the exterior walls and windows arrives and installation begins.

August 2015: Anticipated opening of the Centre!

Thanks to the generosity of our donors and the Memphis Development Foundation board of directors, $13.9 million has been raised toward the Centre's $14.5 million goal. We've had a substantial commitment from the community -- individuals, corporations and foundations -- and the MDF board and staff have contributed $2.4 million to date. To learn more about supporting the campaign, click here.

We still need your help paving the way! The Centre's beautiful plaza entry will feature bricks inscribed with special messages of support, remembrance and celebration. Learn about how you can leave a lasting legacy at the Orpheum Centre here.

Want to see more? Check out the floor plans at and look for updated photos of our progress on Facebook too!

The Orpheum Theatre's performing arts programs for students, teachers and families currently serve 70,000 annually. With...
Posted by The Orpheum Theatre-Memphis on Thursday, January 22, 2015

Spotlight: Join Us June 5 For Our 14th Annual Golf Tournament

Mirimichi Golf Course
In 2002, The Orpheum lost a dear friend Ken Sossaman. Ken served on The Orpheum Board of Directors, Executive Committee and he chaired the 2001 Annual Auction. In his honor, the Orpheum hosts a golf tournament every year to help raise funds for our community and education programs and continue the work Ken cared so much about.

The Annual Ken Sossaman Memorial Golf Tournament is now in its 14th year and will take place on the gorgeous greens of Mirimichi on June 5. Join us for a full day of golf, food and fun, including:
  • Morning and afternoon tee-times
  • Prizes for first, second and third place teams
  • Fabulous gift bags and contest prizes
  • Meals and awards ceremonies

Our Hole-in-One prizes this year are sponsored by Roadshow BMW, and you'll have the chance to win a 2015 BMW or $1,000 in cash on our two eligible holes. Get more information or register your team with our 2015 tournament brochure.

Register your foursome for $2,200, or register as an individual for $550. All proceeds will benefit our expanding community and education programs and the Centre for Performing Arts & Education set to open this summer.

We hope you'll join us for a great day of golf on Mirimichi's ideal course — deep pit bunkers, elevated greens, swathes of native grassland, waterfalls and meandering creeks — all providing more than 7,400 yards of championship level golf. Learn more about the course, from tee to hole, at

Thank you to our generous sponsors! Additional sponsorship opportunities are still available.
True Temper Sports
Ring Container Technologies
The Barnett Group
Cumberland Partners
Scott & Carol Hennessy

Contact Brooke at 901-529-4288 or for more information.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Spotlight: April is a fun month for families at the Orpheum

We're making it easy to get out and about with the kids this April!

The 2014-2015 Family Series wraps up with Spot, the most famous and beloved dog in children's literature. On April 10, follow Spot to his father’s farm, where all the animals have gone missing. Spot and his friend Helen are going to need the audience’s help to find the animals and bring them back to the farm. Spot’s show-stopping tunes and incredible puppetry will enchant viewers and highlight the importance of working together to solve problems. 

Come early for some fun pre-show activities with our education department, including making puppets and working on a mural. Like all of our education shows, Spot has a handy downloadable study guide, so you can make your own puppets ahead of time and bring them to the show, or get your art supplies out for the coloring page showing Spot and his friends on their way to the farm.

Spot is the perfect show for children in pre-K through 2nd grade, and runs about 50 minutes. Tickets for Spot start at only $15, and special discounts are available if you're booking a group of 10 or more. Our student matinee field trip shows are almost sold out, and great seats are still left for our family show! Click here for tickets or more information.

Coming up April 17-19, Ballet Memphis' Swan Lake, the dance world's most iconic story of good and evil, returns to the Orpheum stage for the first time in 15 years. Staged fresh for a new generation of ballet goers, the famous Tchaikovsky score and Ballet Memphis' brilliant cast eloquently narrate the tale of the beautiful maiden Odette transformed into a swan by an evil magician, and the price who swears his enduring love for her. 

Whether this is your first ballet or your all-time favorite, this is your moment to be a part of the dance world's legacy. Swan Lake's study guide not only provides classrooms lessons, but provides a look at the story and creation of Swan Lake at Ballet Memphis. Students and teachers from around the area will get to see the show early on April 17 as part of the Student Matinee Series.

Swan Lake plays at 7:30pm Friday, April 17, and 7:30pm Saturday, April 18, with a 2pm matinee on Sunday, April 19. Tickets start at just $9.50! Click here for tickets or more information, or visit

We hope to see you here with your family as we wrap up another wonderful Family Series! Stay tuned for details about the next amazing season of family shows -- and new performances in the Orpheum Centre for Performing Arts & Education.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Spotlight: Summer Camps Put Kids Center Stage

The Broadway luminaries, superstar musicians and hilarious comedians who grace our stage were all once kids with big dreams. Each year the Orpheum helps the next generation of stars explore their talents in summer camps for grades 3rd through 12th.

During our five camp sessions this summer, your kids will learn a song and dance from a hit Broadway musical, culminating in a live performance on the Orpheum stage. Crafts and other fun activities will keep the campers busy from 9am to 4pm each day of these weeklong camps. 

Angie Harrison Murphy's son, Thomas, attended last summer's camp and is already registered for this year.

"Summer camp at the Orpheum is a unique, special experience; learning while having fun!," she said. "Thomas learned to work with others and create a production.  He learned about music, theatre, lighting, costumes, Orpheum history, stage management ... all while having fun and making new friends and learning to work as a team."

Check out all of the options below, and apply for any of our camps here.

Rising Star Camp

Dates: July 20-24, 2015
Time: 9am - 4pm
Grades: 3-5

Broadway Rising Star Camp gives your child an exciting opportunity to shine onstage! Campers will learn about musical theatre, master fun and challenging choreography, rehearse songs from upcoming musicals, and explore their imaginations as they grow into dynamic performers! Rising Star Camp is an opportunity for musical theatre students to develop vocally, physically, and creatively. A final presentation will include choreographed song selections from our upcoming Broadway season.

Camp Fees:
Total Cost: $200 until May 1; $250 after May 1
Add Boxed Lunches for the Week: $40

Broadway Boot Camp

Session 1: July 6-10, 2015
Session 2: July 27-31, 2015
Time: 9am - 4pm
Grades: 6-8

Report for five days of singing, dancing, and acting during Broadway Boot Camp! Students will learn everything from the historical contexts of Broadway musicals to choreography. They will work with professional teaching artists to create a one of a kind production based on the Orpheum’s upcoming 2015-2016 Broadway Season. This professionally directed and choreographed showcase will be presented to family and friends on the last day of camp.

Camp Fees:
Total Cost: $200 until May 1; $250 after May 1
Add Boxed Lunches for the Week: $40

Broadway Summer Institute: Motown the Musical

Dates: July 13-17, 2015
Time: 9am - 4pm
Grades: 9-12

Come experience the business side of Show Business! Learn the inner workings of the theatre and performing arts in classes that explore administrative subjects including Marketing and Promotion, Development, and Box Office Operations along with technique classes in stage adaptation, movement, and acting. Classes will be taught by local artists, performing arts personnel, Orpheum staff, and Broadway actors from the smash hit Motown: The Musical.

Camp Fees:
Total Cost: $200 until May 1; $250 after May 1
Add Boxed Lunches for the Week: $40

Musical Theatre Intensive

Dates: July 27-29, 2015
Time: 9am - 4pm
Grades: 9-12

The Orpheum Musical Theatre Intensive provides students with real world training and advice from Broadway professionals! Lead by Jeff Whiting, Associate Director of Big Fish, Bullets over Broadway, and The Scottsboro Boys, alongside two professional Teaching Artists, Intensive classes are dedicated to refining each student’s craft. Topics include: finding an agent, audition and resume preparation, and a masterclass in which students learn current Broadway choreography. The Musical Theatre Intensive helps students pursuing a career onstage to perfect their skills in the art of musical theatre while spending an enlightening three days with working Broadway artists.

Camp Fees:

Total Cost: $225
Add Boxed Lunches for the Week: $40