Funny Girl — Why Kinky Boots' Annaleigh Ashford is "The New Goldie Hawn"

By Marc Acito
03 Jun 2013

Annaleigh Ashford
Annaleigh Ashford

"I did everything wrong," admits actress Annaleigh Ashford. Yet somehow the big-eyed blonde managed to end up on Broadway as a contender for almost every top award this season, including the Drama Desk and Tony Award, for her breakout performance as a scrappy factory worker in Kinky Boots.

Over the past decade, Ashford has won admiration from some of Broadway's biggest names while losing out on some of the best parts. "This is the first show I've been with from the beginning that I actually got to do," she says, having played in workshops of Bring It On, Catch Me If You Can and The Addams Family.

She originated the role of the daughter in Feeling Electric at the New York Musical Theatre Festival. Then Ashford watched from the sidelines as the show became the hit Next to Normal. "My agent called to tell me that they were going in a younger direction," she explains. "I was 21."

Still, Ashford must have done something right along the way because she landed supporting roles in the original casts of Legally Blonde and the Off-Broadway revival of Rent. But her perception of her career path matches her Kinky Boots character's view of love, expressed hilariously in the show-stopping "The History of Wrong Guys."

"I came out of the womb singing, dancing, and telling awkward jokes," the Colorado native says. "I sang every song a child shouldn't sing."



Pre-pubescent performances of such age-inappropriate ditties as Cabaret's "Maybe This Time" and Gypsy's "Everything's Coming Up Roses" landed Ashford her first professional gig as a homicidal eight-year-old in the musical Ruthless! That opportunity came at Denver's Theatre on Broadway, a gay theatre in which her grandmother was played by a drag queen.

Ashford's role in Ruthless!, coincidentally, originated Off-Broadway with Laura Bell Bundy, Legally Blonde's future Elle Woods, who was understudied in 1992 by a couple of nobodies — Natalie Portman and Britney Spears.

Eager to get to New York, Ashford graduated high school at 16 and then attended Marymount Manhattan College while performing as a go-go dancer for downtown DJ Lady Starlight. "It was performance art," she explains. "I dyed my eyebrows white and did dramatic lyrical dances all over the bar."

Her first New York theatre audition was a chorus call for Wicked. "I picked the worst eight bars ever, singing the last line of 'Poor Sweet Baby' from Snoopy! The Musical. I stood there and sang 'Mama's heeeeeeeeere,' and they were like, 'Uh, thank you… ?'"

Continued...

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