Checking In With… Kinky Boots Star Callum Francis | Playbill

Checking In With... Checking In With… Kinky Boots Star Callum Francis

The British actor is currently reprising his award-winning performance as Lola in the Tony-winning musical's Off-Broadway debut.

This week Playbill catches up with British actor Callum Francis, who is currently playing Lola in the new Off-Broadway production of Kinky Boots at Stage 42.

Francis first played Lola, whose broken heel helps mend a broken wing for a foundering shoe-maker, in the London company of the Harvey Fierstein-Cyndi Lauper musical at the Adelphi Theatre. He later played the role in the Australian tour, winning the 2017 Helpmann Award for Best Male Actor in a Musical. Subsequently, Francis opened the U.K. tour of Kinky Boots before playing the part on Broadway at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. The actor's additional Australian credits include The Phantom of the Opera, Girl From the North Country, and Rent, while his other West End credits include Miss Saigon, The Lion King, and Ghost: The Musical. 

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What is your typical day like now?
I wake up and eat before waking my body up. This show is fun, but it can hurt at times being in the heels. So I will roll out my legs and back to ease into the day. I shower and move the voice a little before heading out to get fresh air, be it a walk with friends and their dogs, or lunch. I’ll squeeze/force myself into a gym session before heading in to work to start makeup.

You've previously played Lola in London, Australia, and on Broadway. Are there any parts of the role or the musical that seem particularly poignant/relevant following the events of the past two years?
Honestly, it is all relevant. Kinky Boots has a way of finding itself in countries, cities, towns where it needs to be. America needs it right now. For everyone, the past two years haven’t been filled with joy—and that’s exactly what Kinky brings—JOY! Interestingly enough (along with many other important things that have finally come under the spotlight over the past few years), gender has evolved and changed in wonderful ways. Therefore, Kinky Boots has had to follow. Harvey Fierstein has made many changes to the book that are even more celebratory and welcoming to every single human that watches.

Callum Francis in <i>Kinky Boots</i>
Callum Francis in Kinky Boots Darren Bell

How do you think your performance as Lola has changed over the years?
I like to think she is the same Lola that I’ve always known—but I’m older than when I started doing it. I like to think I’m wiser, so she has a more grounded seriousness to her that I think the Callum of 2016 didn’t necessarily have.

Do you have a favorite memory, either onstage or off, from your time spent in the London production of Kinky Boots?
The London production was such an amazing experience. It was my fourth West End show, but my first time entering the world of Jerry Mitchell. The cast were so, so brilliant, and I learned so much from every experience. I was a swing and cover Lola. I have such respect for every department off stage and every person on it—it was so rewarding stepping into so many different tracks in the show. I still, to this day, have all the plots in my head. Swing brain never leaves you! But I think overall, playing opposite one of my best mates, Killian Donnelly, was the highlight. We both eventually got to bring our roles to NYC (sadly not together), but he taught me everything about how to be a great leading man and a stellar cast member. Don’t tell him I said that though.

During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
Lots of change has happened in the past two years. Lots more still needs to happen. We praise our industry for telling stories and showing glimpses into people's lives, but there are still so many to be told. I hope to see more of these stories about different communities and different walks of life being told in mainstream musicals. That way, everyone can be present at the table and feel seen. And, also, like the audience get when they watch Kinky Boots, they can leave having learnt something new—having lost themselves in someone else’s story for two hours.

What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past two years that you didn't already know?
I learnt so much about my purpose. As performers, we’re always hungry for the next big job or big thing. For the first time, we all had to stop and relax. With my partner, I created a charity in Australia that strives for better representation in the Australian arts industry. I learnt that that is something much more important to me than the next big thing. Leaving something like that behind is a really wonderful feeling.

Do you have any other stage or screen projects in the works?
At this moment in time I do not. Kinky Boots is my entire focus. It needs to come back with a bang, so it has all my attention to make sure it does. Plus, moving home across the globe isn’t straightforward—no time for anything else—ha!

What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
The organization I just mentioned that I co-founded is called We The Industry. Have a read, and see if there is anything that would inspire you to make a change, wherever you are. But there are so many amazing organizations out there.

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