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Joe Coots was in Baltimore when we talked, but Kinky Boots was headed here so he was busy lining up Orpheum tickets for his Omaha cousins.
The musical that swept six Tony awards two years ago and arrives in Nebraska Oct. 20 isn’t the first job to bring the former football player to the Orpheum Theater. He played another big guy in The Full Monty, giving the ex-offensive lineman a chance to play Good Samaritan by lifting the car of an elderly lady stuck in a downtown snow drift.
He even played football at nearby Morningside College before spending eight years in sports administration in Illinois.
In Kinky Boots, he’s the shoe factory nemesis of Lola, the drag queen who saves the business when her call for some sturdy stilettos transforms their footwear. His character, Don, “has the biggest learning curve,” and evolves from open hostility to acceptance of their differences. Coots shares two songs with Lola, “What a Woman Wants,” and “In This Corner,” where he challenges her to a boxing match. You can guess how that works out.
The biggest names connected to the award-winning musical are rock icon Cyndi Lauper, who won a Tony for best score, and Harvey Fierstein, nominated for best book. Director Jerry Mitchell won for best choreography.
Don and Lola share the spotlight with Charlie Price, who tries to live up to his father’s expectations in running the shoe factory, and his girlfriend Nicola.
Omaha has the good fortune of catching the four leads just before they leave the cast after a year touring. That’s the kind of steady work that was predicted for Coots before he left his career in sports development and marketing.
His football coach suggested the sociology/criminal justice major help the school’s theater program by working on sets. Joe soon discovered that theater offered “a lot of pretty girls running around.”
His first chance on stage came in the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” forecasting his future prospects by landing a lumberjack role. Later, doing some summer theater, a fellow from New York City told him, “You’re a type, you can sing, you can act.” He invited Joe to NYC “and I got the idea people are actually doing this for a living.”
He recalled when he was coaching that a colleague asked him, “Can you live without football?” The answer to that question was “Yes,” but the answer to “Can you live without performing?” was “No.”
So he finds himself in a shoe factory, described in the cast listing as “a burly hyper-masculine bear of a factory worker.” Coots explains, “Don takes pride in his work, then drinks a few pints at the pub.” Everybody else likes Lola, but he challenges her to a fight. And she challenges him to “accept people for what they are.”
At the start of the tour, Coots weighed over 300 pounds, but he works out every day and is now down to 260.” Those cousins that he’s helping with tickets aren’t football players, by the way. They’re into basketball.
Most musical theater fans heard about Kinky Boots by the time it won the best musical Tony, but it more fully caught this writer’s attention while sitting next to Cookie and Jerry Hoberman at an Omaha Community Playhouse performance of Les Miserables. We exchanged enthusiasm over Les Miz when the Hobermans mentioned they had a new favorite after returning from a Broadway visit.
They’d just seen Kinky Boots and couldn’t wait to tell the world how much they enjoyed it.
Kinky Boots runs Oct. 20-25 in the Broadway Across America series by Omaha Performing Arts with shows at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday Oct. 20, Wednesday Oct. 21 and Thursday, Oct. 22; 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24, and 1:30 and 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25, at the Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St., in downtown Omaha. Tickets start at $30 online at TicketOmaha.com, by phone at 402.345.0606 or at the Holland Performing Arts Center box office, 12th and Douglas.