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A love affair with Kinky Boots

WELL-HEELED: Callum Francis stars in the stage musical Kinky Boots.
WELL-HEELED: Callum Francis stars in the stage musical Kinky Boots. Contributed

KINKY Boots' Callum Francis can't wait for the hit musical's Brisbane season.

The musical theatre star is keen to soak up the sights, sounds and sun of the Sunshine State after spending the past year performing in Melbourne and Sydney.

"I've heard very good things, and people call it Brisvegas?" he said.

"Melbourne was brilliant and Sydney was bigger but the audience was dramatically different. A lot of people turned around and said 'wait until Brisbane'.

"I've heard the audiences are crazy - in a good way."

Francis even has a family connection to the river city.

"My granddad's brother, my Uncle Roger, lived in Brisbane years and years go," he said.

"Unfortunately, he's not around anymore but I imagine if he was, then he'd be the first one to see Kinky Boots."

The award-winning musical is based on the film of the same name starring Joel Edgerton and inspired by the true story of a shoe-making business in Northamptonshire, England.

The show features an award-winning score and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, who famously let slip that Francis had secured the lead role in the Australian production while backstage at the 2016 Olivier Awards.

Toby Francis and Callum Francis in a scene from the stage musical Kinky Boots.
Toby Francis and Callum Francis in a scene from the stage musical Kinky Boots. Matthew Murphy

Francis had just spent a year as the understudy for the role of drag performer Lola in the West End production.

"Coming here was like a dream come true," he said.

"I was so grateful (to get the part) and I still am ... it's like Christmas every day."

And Australian audiences clearly love him. Francis won this year's Helpmann Award for Best Actor in a Musical, but he admits he was nervous about his Australian stage debut.

"I was really worried coming here a year go now," he said.

"Not being from here, I was worried that they wouldn't accept me in the show. People can be very patriotic, but (it turns out) they just love Kinky Boots. I've been getting messages for months and months from people in Brisbane."

His character Lola is a drag performer in need of some sturdy stilettos who convinces Charlie (Toby Francis) that making "kinky" footwear could save his family's shoe business, Price & Son, from bankruptcy.

Callum Francis stars as Lola in the stage musical Kinky Boots.
Callum Francis stars as Lola in the stage musical Kinky Boots. Contributed

Basing his interpretation of Lola on his mother rather than seeking any direct training as a drag queen, Francis has nonetheless been welcomed by Australia's drag community.

"From the start, they've been very welcoming for a boy who'd never worn a pair of heels in my life (before the show)," he said.

"A lot of people I meet after the shows automatically think that I'm a drag queen, but honestly I bow down to them.

"I don't do my own make-up or costumes. They do it all themselves. I have a lot of respect for the drag community."

He's also had a taste of the negative treatment drag performers can endure.

"In between shows, if I'm out for lunch, I'll keep my full face of make-up on because I have another show after and unfortunately you get some strange looks," he said.

"I've learned a lot doing this job and what people like the characters in our show go through - they have some pretty thick skin."

The show, with its overriding message of acceptance not just for the LGBTI community but people in general, has thrust Francis into the spotlight as a spokesperson for marriage equality. With the recent announcement of a postal plebiscite over the issue, it's a subject he can't ignore.

The Australian cast of the musical Kinky Boots.
The Australian cast of the musical Kinky Boots. Matthew Murphy

"I have a partner who is Australian and the way I see it - this is a personal opinion - is the more someone stands and shouts about 'I want equal rights', then the more people will get their backs up," he said. "I'm very happy with my partner and he's happy with me. You just show that and eventually people will go: 'Okay this is how it should be'.

"Yes, it's a very bad time, but Kinky Boots is a brilliant message to be sharing at this time."

And what's the secret to Callum strutting his stuff in those ruby-red six-inch heels?

"The weird thing is my feet, honestly, are fine. Yes they're six-inch heels but the shoes are made for our feet," he said.

"My lower back feels it the most. Heels, as most women know, change the way you stand and do everything. I'm not going to lie and say it's easy. It's a very tough, demanding role."

Kinky Boots officially opens at QPAC tomorrow night and plays at the Lyric Theatre until October 22. For more information, go to qpac.com.au

Topics:  kinky boots musical qpac whatson



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