Wayne Brady stars as Lola in Broadway's Kinky Boots at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.
Wayne Brady stars as Lola in Broadway's Kinky Boots at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.
(© David Gordon)

This isn't Wayne Brady's first time at the Broadway rodeo, but to his mind, it may as well be. The actor and notable improv comedian technically celebrated that milestone in 2004 during his three-month stint as Billy Flynn in Chicago. Yet, "this does feel like a debut," Brady told TheaterMania one week after replacing Tony Award winner Billy Porter as Kinky Boots' fabulous drag queen Lola. "Because it feels like I'm working my ass off — and the work is being rewarded."

Enduring aching joints and raw vocal chords, Brady chatted about taking on the role, which at one time gave him dreams of Tony glory. A shiny statuette is off the table now, but he's savoring the chance to fill his much-admired predecessor's enormous shoes…as long as he remembers to bevel .

You've officially stepped into Lola's boots. How has it felt performing that role every night?
I'm enjoying the hell out of it. [But] my body has definitely taken a toll…As I'm talking to you right now, my feet are throbbing, my knee is throbbing, but all that being said, it's the best place to be.

How much of the pain is from the heels and how much is just the rigor of a Broadway schedule?
No, it's the heels. I didn't realize exactly what it takes to dance in heels. There's an art. You have to learn to straighten your legs or take the opportunity to stretch out your calves when you can when you're standing so it doesn't look like you are. And then to always be in a bevel. When I'm beveling on my right foot then I'm digging my toe in to balance out my other. And you're holding everything firm so that the audience doesn't know. It's its own boot camp. Drag boot camp. I'm gonna call Ru Paul, I think I got a new show. Drag Boot Camp — where we take guys who have never been in drag and we make them perform eight times a week in front of an audience.

Does the costume help you get into character?
Absolutely. Lola is such a nuanced beautiful role to play that I think I was getting into it when we were just doing rehearsals and learning it, but once I started to see myself as Lola…I didn't have to work so hard. [It's] the old actor thing of outside in. The way that I see Lola is she's always pulled up. Never slouched. You would never see Lola sitting like me. And then with the body language, you would close your legs. You would never sit like that in the dress. I felt it all happen. And with each show a little thing gets added. A little more comes out and I find a really great spot where I go, "OK, yeah, that's Lola."

What was your first reaction when you were offered the part?
It was a quick and decisive yes. A supercharged yes. Because I had seen the show five times before. I was a fan of the show, I was a fan of the movie, I was a fan of Billy [Porter]. There was a time when they talked to me about doing the workshop, and I had already seen the movie, so in my mind I went "Yes! Anybody who does this role is gonna get a Tony. This is my Tony! I got a Tony!" [miming writing] Dear Wayne, [the director] Jerry [Mitchell]'s gonna go with Billy. I was like, "Aww." But then again, when you get that email, you go, "Well, it's Billy Porter. Duh." So as soon as the show opened up here I came to see it because I knew that Billy was gonna murder it. And he did. His Lola was filled with such love and sass, and it was inspirational as an actor to watch him. So when I get the call, "Yes. Double yes."

What do you feel you bring to the part of Lola?
My Lola is happy. There's a warmth and a positivity. Lola could be the drag queen that plays in the clubs and has been doing it for twenty years — kind of the sassy world-weary drag queen. My Lola has done it for a long time but loves it. Loves putting on the outfit, the shoes, the mannerisms. Never wants to be a woman, but worships women so much. His whole being is dedicated to loving them and they love him right back. And I've tried my best to make her very real and never to play the sexuality. Because with Lola, it's not about being gay or straight. In fact, in the character descriptions it says that Lola is a heterosexual boxer who wears drag. He doesn't have a love interest, he's never trying to "get" Charlie. It's all about…that attention. He loves being Lola and wearing that armor. It's not about any of the sex stuff.

That "armor" is something all performers can relate to.[[br ]] And I can relate to the fact that Lola, like a lot of performers, myself included, is a very quiet person. I'm pretty introverted. But when I'm not, I'm that guy onstage doing what I do. Lola is Simon's armor. When he's not Lola, he's just a guy at home in his street clothes just being very meek. But once you put him onstage, pow! That's what I think I was drawn to as well.

This is your first time back on Broadway since your debut in Chicago over ten years ago. How does it feel to be back?
It feels amazing. Especially to be in this show. It's a different experience. Playing Billy was summer camp for me...But this is real work. This is the stuff that when I was a kid, sitting in my house in Tangelo Park, Florida, wanting to be onstage, knowing about Broadway going, "How can I get there?" This is what I wanted to do.

Brady taking a bow on his opening night as Lola.
Brady taking a bow on his opening night as Lola.
(© David Gordon)