When I accepted a job with the First National Tour of Kinky Boots, I was immediately struck by its career and financial implications. After picking up my jaw off the floor, the excited phone calls to mom and dad, subletting of the apartment, and figuring out how I’d tackle the book, I thought could finally get a little bit ahead. Finally, I got my first big credit! I’d be in programs. I’d be on IBDB! I’d be touring with a Broadway pit orchestra! I thought I understood all the ways this show would shape the coming year. What nonsense! I was not at all aware of the social impact this show would have on me, our audience, or how life changing Kinky Boots would be.

Before I even joined, I loved the show. I had heard the music, knew the story, the movie, and the score. Kinky Boots’s main premise (spoiler alert) is about Charlie Price and his unlikely partnership with a drag queen named Lola. Having inherited a struggling shoe factory from his father, Charlie, along with Lola produce a line of high-heeled boots for men, and save the business. In the process, both characters find they aren’t so different after all, and accept each other for who they are.

I didn’t think accepting people for who they were was such a surprising concept. I didn’t find the premise of the show to be particularly obtuse. Of COURSE you accept people for who they are, of COURSE you “just be who you wanna be”. Perhaps because of my upbringing, or perhaps because I was naive, I didn’t feel this was such an alien idea. I had no clue this concept would be so earth-shattering for so many people, and was totally unprepared for the huge reception this show would have.

The show has experienced a wide variety of reviews. I’ll just say we got the “full spectrum” analysis by many people both right and left of the fence. What will stick with me though, are the few who came up to me and my coworkers at the stage door.

The stage door is a funny place. There is always a gathering there after a show! Dozens of fans want to dish out compliments, give hugs, and wait to receive autographs, and take pictures. Most people ignore the musicians. Most people look at you with this amusing air of disappointment when you pass through the door. “Who’s this guy? What the hell did HE do in the show. Maybe if I picture him in boots I’ll figure out who he is.” The ones who do recognize us, will politely acknowledge our contributions, and even more politely move on. They’re not waiting there to see us, they want to see the stars! They want the glamour and glitz, and especially the boots! There are of course many exceptions, two of which I would like to acknowledge, and hope to carry with me the rest of my life.

My first recollection involves a young musician; a woodwind doubler. She ran up to me upon my crossing of the stage door threshold: “YOU! Yes, YOU! Mr. Saxophone! You sounded incredible! How can I learn to play like that? How can I be a part of something like this?” I told her to practice everyday, REALLY learn your doubles, study with lots of good teachers, and always maintain the love of the craft. Then she said, “But, my teacher says gigs like this don’t exist anymore.” I replied by taking her program, autographing next to my credit, and saying: “clearly your teacher is mistaken”. We ended up speaking at length about the show, its message, Broadway, and society. She thanked me for my time, and left me with this little gem: “you are so lucky to be a part of such a wonderful message! I’m jealous of all the people you get to share this show with, especially at a time where we need to be talking more about acceptance, and less about exclusion.” I probably was sporting the biggest grin of the tour after that moment! “Thank you, you’re absolutely right”, I said. I hope I run into that kid again when she’s playing in a pit of her own. I also have a few choice words for her teacher if we ever meet…

Story number two happened during Broadway Cares; the fundraising event where the Broadway and touring communities get together and raise money for HIV, AIDS, and other debilitating illnesses. A man came up to a buddy of mine with his daughter in tow. “Boy, I don’t know, three hours ago I would’ve called you some nasty names, but look at my daughter; she’s crying! She’s crying because she loved the show, and so did I! I mean, damn it, what a great message! No, you all did it, you changed my mind!”

This family had driven fourteen hours to see Kinky Boots! They came because their daughter loves the show, and is studying musical theatre at school. I was impressed. The parents did the right thing by supporting her interests. I also thought it was pretty special, because little did dad know his prejudices would come into question during his little foray into his kid’s aspirations. The daughter was thrilled that he finally “got it”. I was thrilled just to be there. I live for moments like that!

I wrote this article for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I wanted to write it down so I could appreciate it later in life. I also wanted to give back to locals 279 and 802 in a way other than playing my best. Without them, none of this would’ve been possible. So I’d like to thank them for this opportunity! Thank you!

Secondly, I never thought I would be a part of a show during a time in society where there is uncertainty over the idea of accepting people for who they are, or even what bathroom you can use! I still remember the palpable shudder I felt from the audience when we performed in North Carolina after Lola was denied use of the factory facilities. North Carolina of course, was where the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act stated that individuals may only use restrooms that correspond to the sex identified on their birth certificates. We got a roaring standing ovation most every show we did there.

Lastly, I wanted to shed some light on an aspect of shows that does get discussed, but probably not enough. Artists have the ability to move and sculpt societies. We have powerful, and eloquent methods of delivering messages in ways other disciplines cannot. At a time where funding is in jeopardy, and where some people in society question what we do, writing this article helped me maintain my outlook, and my appreciation for our craft. The arts is a vehicle for wisdom. It shows great ignorance when we as a society, dismiss that vehicle. Artists deliver on more than just our job description. On any given night, people don’t just hear me play the reed book, they hear me as a part of a message, and sometimes that message becomes an anthem. It has been a truly special experience for me to contribute to Kinky Boots. I sincerely hope that I have opportunities like this twenty, and thirty years from now. At the time of me writing this, Kinky Boots turns four years old on Broadway. So happy fourth birthday Kinky Boots! You can change the world when you change your mind! Thank you for letting me be just who I want to be! Thank you for this beautiful experience!