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Interview: Callum Francis Laces Up His Boots Yet Again as Lola in Kinky Boots

Francis stars in the off-Broadway run of the Tony-winning musical after playing the role around the world.

With a handful of exceptions, the off-Broadway production of Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper's Kinky Boots at Stage 42 is loaded with actors that are new to this beloved musical. One major exception is its leading performer, Callum Francis. Francis has played Lola (and her alter ego, Simon) across the world, and now he's back in New York for another go-round.

While Francis took Broadway by storm in the role right before the show closed in 2019, he says that this run (plus all the life experience lived in between) has deepened his take on both Lola and Simon. Before the off-Broadway engagement ends on November 20, here, Francis explains why.

Callum Francis as Lola in Kinky Boots at Stage 42
(© Matthew Murphy)

How has your Lola deepened, grown, or changed over the years that you've been playing her?
It's interesting coming back playing her, because I always felt like I was playing the same Lola - I always have done. But the producers, Jerry, Cyndi and others I've known now for years who have known my Lola say she's different. Much more mature - I guess that's because maybe I am. I don't know. Some relationships with some people in my life have sadly changed, which now mirror the story - so that's been a challenging vein to open up this time around.

What about in your take on Simon?
Over the years I have learned a lot about myself playing Lola. Most recently I did a job back home in Australia that really tested what I have gained. To cut a long horrible story short, someone in a position of power didn't take a liking to me because I wasn't "manly enough." What is "manly" anyway? This certain person really made me forget all I've learned from this job and question myself in my own skin. As a result, Simon to me now feels stronger in his skin. He starts off uncomfortable but then has a real moment of "screw you" towards anyone who didn't think he was "manly enough." That's something I didn't have last time. This time, it's something I feel good about each night - being able to say "screw you" to Simon's bullies, but also my own.

This show is an endurance test for everyone in the cast, but especially for you. Have you grown accustomed to it by now, or did you have to retrain yourself for this marathon in time to start rehearsals again?
I would love to say the love of theatre and the job carries you through, but I should be honest about what we put our bodies through. Lola is the most fun I have ever had on stage. But it is grueling. I always say that Lola gets the fun and Callum has to sit in silence or be unsocial for her to work. She's a beast. I am sat answering these questions in my bed with a sinus infection, trying to wake up my body and voice for two shows on a Sunday, after two shows on a Saturday. You'd think I have grown accustomed to it by now, but it still surprises you with new challenges. We are so lucky we get to do what we love, but it's hard work. Very hard at times. It is still a marathon - but it's a marathon in six-inch heels!

How do the audiences differ across the world?
Strangely enough, audiences around the world have been very similar. Jerry's direction is obviously the same worldwide. He has a way that allows audiences to react and be involved. It works everywhere. Certain moments in the show have the same exact response here as they did in Sydney, Australia or in Manchester, UK.

And what is the 42nd Street off-Broadway audience like compared to the Broadway audience?
Exactly the same but smaller. It's much nicer here. Stage 42 is such a nice house to play in. You get to hear all the reactions, the sniffles of tears and the gasps during heated scenes - it really is great. It's a different world we live in since Kinky was last in New York, and it shows. You can feel it. The audiences take a little longer to feel like they are part of the fun. They always get there in the end.

What does it mean to you and your cast to be doing this show and bringing joy to people now, in light of all that's going on in the world.
This is an easy question to answer and I have said this before and I'll say it again: Kinky Boots always finds itself where it's needed most. I think America needs some joy and we're so grateful that we can bring it to people.

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