Fabulous Footwear

Kinky Boots actor uses personal experience to fill character's shoes

Kinky Boots actor uses personal experience to fill character's shoes

Kinky Boots Broadway 2015 J. Harrison Ghee as Lola
Personal experience helps J. Harrison Ghee fill Lola's shoes in Kinky Boots. Photo by Matthew Murphy
Kinky Boots Broadway 2015 J. Harrison Ghee Lola Simon Adam Kaplam Charlie Price
Stephen Booth as Charlie Price and Ghee as Simon/Lola. Photo by Matthew Murphy
Kinky Boots Broadway 2015 J. Harrison Ghee as Lola
Kinky Boots Broadway 2015 J. Harrison Ghee Lola Simon Adam Kaplam Charlie Price

Actor J. Harrison Ghee has made a career out of dressing in drag. The son of a North Carolina pastor, he resisted telling his father about his collection of wigs and high heels until he landed the lead role of Lola in Kinky Boots, a Broadway play with music by Cyndi Lauper. Ghee says it's a character he strongly relates to.

"Sometimes I joke with people that Cyndi Lauper must have been in my living room and [known] my life. Some of her lyrics hit very close to home," says Ghee, who will be singing and acting in the Tony Award-winning musical strutting its stuff at Bass Concert Hall from November 10 through 15.

A performer from an early age, Ghee discovered he had a knack for dressing in drag five years ago while in Japan working for Tokyo Disney Resort. Encouraged by friends to explore drag in New York after moving back to the U.S., he won a contest that led to his very own Friday night cabaret show. "I find joy in having creative control over the character that I created. My drag name is Crystal Demure, and I love exploring how different I can look every time I step out," says Ghee.

Ghee's flair, talent, and experience attracted the attention of the casting director for Kinky Boots. After coming on as a swing, he eventually earned the lead role of Lola, a drag queen who helps save a century-old men's shoe company run by an unlikely ally named Charlie.

Both Lola and Charlie have strained relationships with their fathers and long to make them proud. Ghee says Lola just wants to live her truth — something he's been able to do more openly since having a pivotal conversation with his own father.

"My dad got to see me be Lola in North Carolina, and we sat down the day before the show and we talked about the drag. And he now understands it's part of my job and what I do, but it doesn't define me," Ghee explains. "He understands my stance on drag, and now he respects it and is very supportive of me."

The acceptance Ghee received in his own life is what the character he plays desires. He says for all its glitz and glam, Kinky Boots isn't so much about fabulous footwear as it is about being open minded. "When you accept others for who they are and what they bring to life — to this universe — it makes things a lot easier."

Two well-known entertainers lent their talents to the creation of this show: actor/playwright Harvey Fierstein wrote the original book and Lauper accepted her first Tony Award for writing the score. "Cyndi's music adds lots of depth in the show," says Ghee. "You really get a wide range of musicality which makes it lots of fun. And some of Harvey's scene work is so real and so natural. It’s wonderful."

With all the important Broadway boxes checked, Ghee says Kinky Boots entertains while also taking the audience through a gamut of emotions. "We call this show the fun machine. It's big, fab fun. It's got a great message, it's got heart, and it's a good time that will make you think."

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You can get in on that big, fab fun during Kinky Boots' one-week run at Bass Concert Hall from November 10 through 15. Tickets range from $30 to $125.