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Booth stands tall in ‘Kinky Boots,’ running through May 10 at the Forrest Theatre

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WRITTEN BY NEAL ZOREN 
For Digital First Media

Steven Booth said he always meant to be a little bit taller.
He did not know he’d attain that extra height by putting on boots that come up to his thigh and have six-inch heels. And do it as part of his job.
“By now walking around in those boots is exhilarating,” Booth said by telephone from Cleveland, where he is co-starring in the tour of Broadway’s “Kinky Boots” as Charlie, the man who inherits a traditional British shoe factory that is one lace away from bankruptcy. Booth and “Kinky Boots” are at Philadelphia’s Forrest Theatre through Sunday, May 10.
“I have to admit the boots hurt at first, but now I can enjoy the scene and have fun,” Booth said. “Charlie is a tougher role than it appears because while Lola fights discrimination and needs a place to get his boots made, Charlie has to deal with a lot of responsibility. A lot of people work for his factory, people who have made their living there for years and will be unemployed if he cannot make the factory profitable. Throughout the course of ‘Kinky Boots,’ he has to make difficult decisions and be willing to take a couple of leaps forward after feeling as if he’s gone two steps backward in meeting all the demands that come from keeping the business afloat and his personal life. He’s always in the position of having to evaluate and make a decision.
“Charlie doesn’t receive immediate gratification like Lola does,” Booth continued. “He is too nervous. If Lola’s idea fails, Charlie will be one who will have to disappoint numerous people who are depending on him. Lola gets his boots. Charlie has to wait to see if sales come in now that he’s changed his whole factory from making fine men’s dress shoes to knee-high, spike-heeled go-go boots.”
Booth said he has never been to a shoe factory, but that “Kinky Boots” director Jerry Mitchell studied the manufacturing process when he helmed the Broadway production.

Lindsay Nicole Chambers and Steven Booth are shown in a scene from 'Kinky Boots,' running through May 10 at the Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia.

Lindsay Nicole Chambers and Steven Booth are shown in a scene from ‘Kinky Boots,’ running through May 10 at the Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia.

“The main thing in doing a show like ‘Kinky Boots’ is keeping up your energy,” Booth said. “The show is nonstop from the time the curtain goes up, and Jerry always stresses we have to keep things moving. Once you’re on stage, you concentrate on that two-and-a-half hours. It’s great. I can find time to rest after the run.”
Big Broadway shows were not part of Booth’s childhood. He is from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where he says the major drama was watching celebrities become attracted to the pristine mountain community and build big houses by the lake.
Among the artists who chose to dwell in Coeur d’Alene was Ellen Travolta, a choreographer and John’s sister, who opened a community theater with her partner, Jack Bannon.
“Ellen and Jack were big advocates of the theater,” Booth said. “I always wanted to perform and knew that I would try community theater, but Ellen and Jack brought things to a new level. They were encouraging. One of my first roles was playing Pippin with Ellen as my mom and Jack as my dad.
“Ellen and Jack really helped me to get excited about this business,” Booth continued. “They were great teachers and strict about getting things right. Let’s face it, Coeur d’Alene attracts artists and it has beautiful scenery, but Idaho is not known for its culture, let alone its theater. Look at it this way. I never did a show in high school because our high school did not do shows.
“I got my training and inspiration from working with Ellen and Jack, but when it came time to be serious, choose a college, and consider whether I wanted to pursue theater as a major, I knew I’d have to leave Idaho. No school there had a program that would train me in a way in which I could go on to a career. I chose the University of Nevada in Las Vegas because it had an arts program and, in Las Vegas, I could see a wide variety of entertainers and see what the theater business was from close at hand.
“In a way, I was testing the water to see if I would like theater as a profession and whether I’d fit in. I guess I did because I stayed in Las Vegas for five years. Best of all, I got a scholarship to UNLV and attended for free. Eventually — we’re about to get serious again — I knew to have any kind of career, I would have to move to New York, so I did.
“As these stories go, I auditioned for a few shows before I left Las Vegas. One was for the role of Princeton in ‘Avenue Q.’ I get to New York and hear I’m being serious considered for the job in Vegas. It was odd news, but it was good news because I was living on people’s couches, and my finances were in a bad way.
“Luckily the callback was in New York. I went to it, and you know the end of this story. I was hired to play Princeton. I would replace John Tartaglia, who originated the role on Broadway and rehearse with John. He taught me how to work with the puppets and make sure the comedy worked. It was great. I was 25 and back in Las Vegas as the lead in a Tony-winning show.
Booth has found more than satisfaction in the theater. While appearing in a stage version of “Happy Days,” he met his wife, Molly.

IF YOU GO

“Kinky Boots” runs through Sunday, May 10, at the Forrest Theatre, 1114 Walnut St., in Philadelphia. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday, and 1:30 and 6 p.m. Sunday. Tickets range from $57-$152 and can be obtained by calling 215-893-1999 or by visiting www.kimmelcenter.org

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