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Alan Mingo Jr. on How Diana Ross and Mommie Dearest Helped Bring His Lola to Life

Mingo is the newest fabulous drag queen of Broadway's Kinky Boots.

"There are not that many roles where you feel, 'I am in love with this character,'" Alan Mingo Jr. says. "And I am truly head-over-heels in love with Lola."

That love affair began last year in Toronto, where Mingo first played this fabulous drag queen in the Canadian premiere of Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper's Tony-winning Kinky Boots. Now, Mingo has kicked up his heels and moved to the Broadway company, taking over the role from his old pal Wayne Brady.

Though this isn't the first time Mingo has replaced someone in an iconic role (he's a past Tom Collins from Rent and Sebastian in The Little Mermaid), the prospect of coming into a role that won its originator, Billy Porter, a Tony Award, was still intimidating. And then he got to the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, where he realized whatever fears he had were unfounded.

Alan Mingo Jr. as Lola in a promotional photo for Broadway's Kinky Boots.
(© Matthew Murphy)

What kind of adjustment is there when you're coming from one company of a show into another?
When you come to a new company, you have to expect things to change. I would tell people that my Lola was going to die in Toronto and then I was going to find a new Lola in New York. What I was pleasantly surprised by was that it wasn't much of a change... I felt like I kept the essence of the character from Toronto, which I'm so glad I was able to do, and now it's like fitting into a tight shoe. You just snuggle her in there and a few things will change, but the main essence has not.

The change [came] in how I'm responding to what I'm getting. I can't just keep firm in what I was doing without taking into consideration my new players. This company has been so loving and so embracing.

Is there a specter of Billy Porter's Lola hanging down on whoever inhabits the role next?
Always. Once you create the role, you can't ignore it. He was phenomenal in the show, and you steal from the best. The great thing is, I got the script the way it was going to be, with a few allowances for me to add something into it. I got to look at it as a whole product before I got to work on it, which, to me, is an advantage compared to when you're originating the role.

Who are the divas that helped inspire your Lola? Who do you think you look like in costume?
Some people have told me recently that I look like a prettier version of Wendy Williams. Because my eyes are like Diana Ross', and she was my idol before I even recognized we sort of have the same eyes; she was the diva I was singing, in style and grace. It was between her and Diahann Carroll in being snappy, and the acting version was definitely all Mommie Dearest.

Have you spoken to Harvey or Cyndi or Billy since you got here?
Harvey came last Wednesday to see me. I think I got like three notes from Harvey, so it wasn't anything really heavy. They both saw the Toronto show and spent some time with us, too. I haven't spoken to Billy. I know he's busy with his show [Shuffle Along], but eventually we'll get down. We have a lot of mutual friends in common. Wayne Brady is a friend of mine, so it was great to tag team with someone that I know well. He left a lot of goodies in my dressing room. It was very sweet.

What's your favorite moment in the show?
I've got to give you two. "Sex Is in the Heel" I love because those shoes are fierce. They hurt, but they are fierce. But "Everybody Say Yeah," no matter what my day is like, you can't be in a bad mood singing the song. If it's one of those days where you're just irritable, by the time we start "Everybody Say Yeah," it just takes you to another place. Because I start my day so early with makeup, I don't really get to see the company or commune with them, so that's a great song where I feel like I'm connecting with everyone, finally. And it's just singing me out of the theater in a good mood.

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