Entertainment

Muny alum tours with ‘Kinky Boots’: ‘It’s like a happiness machine’

Damien Brett spent 12 summers performing at The Muny, but has never been on the Fox stage, so that will make his homecoming as part of “Kinky Boots” even more exciting.

Brett is in the ensemble of the dynamic, high-energy, crowd-pleasing musical, which opens Tuesday at the Fox.

“I can’t wait to get there,” said Brett, a graduate of Kirkwood High School. “There’s a big family group coming. I hope some of the people I grew up with can make it during the two weeks we’re in St. Louis. I expect to be very busy at the stage door.”

The 31-city tour began in September, and St. Louis will be its 17th stop. During the past six months, they have performed 220 shows.

“It’s a pretty sweet gig — such a fun show, with great music. The songs by Cyndi Lauper are hummable tunes. It’s like a happiness machine. No matter what kind of mood you go in with, everybody walks out with a smile on their face. It’s the most amazing thing. You are not going to see anything like it,” he said during a phone interview from Durham, N.C.

Based on a 2005 British film, the story concerns a near-bankrupt shoe factory that is rescued by the needs of drag queens. They want sturdy stilettos to support their weight, Brett said.

Charlie Price has inherited his father’s struggling business, and a chance encounter with Lola changes both their lives. They work to turn the factory around, and discover that they have more in common that they realized.

“It carries such a positive message. Everybody can relate to it,” he said. “It’s about accepting others and being who you are, and always being true to yourself.”

The message of tolerance is inspiring, emphasizing that when you change your mind about someone, you can change your whole world.

The colorful production, acclaimed for its show-stopping musical numbers, has been entertaining audiences on Broadway since April 4, 2013. It won six Tony Awards — for best musical, Lauper’s score, Harvey Fierstein’s book, Jerry Mitchell’s choreography, Stephen Oremus’ arrangements, John Shivers’ sound design, and Billy Porter Best Actor, plus a Grammy for best musical album.

Brett plays one of the factory workers. “It’s really an honor to be part of this cast. They are just unbelievable.”

The dance numbers by Mitchell, who also choreographed “Hairspray,” are not only upbeat but also accessible. The average person can try it at home, Brett pointed out. In fact, it’s hard to resist kicking up your heels during the show.

“During the finale and the curtain call, I’ll look out at the audience, and I’ll see people dancing along with us,” he said.

While he doesn’t dance much in this show, dance-themed plays have provided steady work the past three years. Brett performed in two national tours of “Billy Elliot,” joining the cast after its Fox stop. He was also in its debut at The Muny last summer.

“It was really such a cool opportunity to be home,” he said. “The nice thing about The Muny is being able to work with all the amazing people, so much talent.”

“Les Miserables,” “Miss Saigon,” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” are among his other favorite shows at the Muny, but the overall experience has been invaluable.

“When 11,000 people are cheering and screaming, there is nothing like it,” he said.

His love for performing was evident at an early age. Running around in a Batman cape and cowl one day, his mother remarked that he liked to pretend to be somebody else. “That’s when I realized I did.”

Dance class increased his desire to perform, not unlike Billy Elliot’s story. He was in sixth grade when he had to choose between P.E. and a dance class, and his mother recommended taking ballet. “She wanted me to be well-rounded. I was the only boy in the class. That was traumatic,” he said.

He moved on to a jazz class at the local YMCA, where he was also the only boy, but this time it was different.

“It was more of a fun environment, a looser atmosphere, and that started me on the road to performing,” he said.

He attended the Visual and Performing Arts High School for his first two years, and a teacher from Collinsville, Harry Kumke, became a mentor.

“I was very shy. He helped me come out of my shell.”

After high school, Brett attended the American Musical and Drama Academy in New York City, a college conservatory of the performing arts. That’s where he met his wife, Briana Valerie. They will mark their sixth anniversary April 5.

The road isn’t easy, but because his wife is also an actress, they both realize the sacrifices.

“To have her in my corner is really helpful,” he said. “The touring lifestyle is difficult. She really understands what it’s like.”

He still enjoys visiting different cities across America.

His contract is open-ended, so he might stay with the show as long as it runs.

“I’m living my dream.”

  Comments