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Kinky Boots - Broadway

Broadway’s huge-hearted hit is the winner of six Tony Awards including Best Musical!

Kinky Boots' Annaleigh Ashford on Cyndi Lauper, Her Fast Theatrical Rise & Not Being a Bridezilla

Kinky Boots' Annaleigh Ashford on Cyndi Lauper, Her Fast Theatrical Rise & Not Being a Bridezilla
Annaleigh Ashford in 'Kinky Boots'
'I would love to be a lady who gets to work in all of the mediums, and who calls the theater her home.'

Annaleigh Ashford made a memorable Broadway debut in 2007 as ditzy sorority sister Margot in Legally Blonde. In the six years since then, Ashford has become one of NYC's most dependable and talented young stage stars with standout performances in Hair, Wicked, Rent and Dogfight. Now, Ashford is reteaming with her Legally Blonde director, Jerry Mitchell, as Lauren loyal factory worker with a history of dating the wrong guys in the hit musical Kinky Boots. We caught up with the 2013 Broadway.com Audience Choice Award nominee to discuss working with Cyndi Lauper, her storybook career, her recent engagement and a possible 2013 Tony nomination.

Everyone at Kinky Boots seems to be having a great time. What do you love most about the show? 
I love working with Jerry [Mitchell], and this team of people—Harvey [Fierstein] and Cyndi [Lauper]—it doesn’t get any better. I've been working on the character of Lauren for two and a half years now, and it just felt like a match to me.

You're now a Jerry Mitchell vet, having made your debut in Legally Blonde. 
Jerry is such a creative innovator, and he knows the Broadway musical inside and out. He’s also got a crazy, amazing sense of humor—when you go to rehearsal with Jerry, you play the whole day. It’s such a treat! It’s why we act. The heart in this show has to do with Jerry knowing that that’s what the show is about. I’m so grateful to have been a part of the two Broadway shows he's directed.

Cyndi Lauper told us that she crafted the songs around the cast's strengths. What's special about your big number “History of Wrong Guys”?
The bridge, when I go “chapter one, he’s a bum; two, he’s not into you,” was added a year ago, and I feel like that little element of the song really helps tell my story. I remember the first time that [Cyndi] did it for us in the read-throughs, it was so funny but also so honest, and that was what we were going for the character. She found the voice of Lauren so early on. In rehearsal, I said, “Do you want a riff in this last section?” and she said, “I don’t want to give it to you. It’s your voice; you’re singing it, and you’ve created the character of Lauren, so I want you to come up with it.” She would give us something and allow us the freedom to make it our own.

Does it feel a bit unbelievable to have the person who sang “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” writing an anthem for you?
It’s crazy! I can’t even think about it. It really is incredible. I’ll be, like, grocery shopping or doing something totally mundane, and once a day you’ll hear a Cyndi Lauper song on the radio. It is astounding what an icon she is, not just in popular music but in popular culture.

You’ve had a storybook theatrical career, alternating iconic roles in Rent and Wicked with new stuff like Dogfight and Kinky Boots. How do you choose roles? 
I’ve never looked at a show and been like, “Oh, I could be the star of that.” It’s so much more about the story and, most importantly for me, about the character, and how I can help further the plot with my character. I’ve had an amazing couple of years with the characters I’ve gotten to play on the stage in New York.

You've already received a Broadway.com Audience Choice Award nomination for Kinky Boots. Are you thinking about the Tonys? [Note: This interview was conducted before Ashford was announced as a 2013 nominee.]
Oh my gosh, I'm not thinking about it at all! [Laughs.] We’re just so happy to come to the theater every night and share our story with the audience. We say that if you can change your mind, you can change the world, and if we can change just one mind a night, we’ve done something beautiful. And that is totally the award.

How do you handle being compared to other actresses who are funny and have great voices, such as Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel? 
Those women are so brilliant and special, any comparison I’ll take as a beautiful compliment. It’s flattering if anyone’s comparing me to anybody as fabulous as those two ladies. I will take it!

You’ve also been a part of a ton of musical workshops [Next to Normal, Catch Me If You Can, Addams Family]. Is there any role you wish you played on Broadway?
I’ve done so many readings of projects that have continued on, [and] every time I haven’t gotten to continue with a project, I know that it wasn’t meant to be for some reason. I’m just proud of the fact that I’ve been part of the process—that I helped them find what they needed. Obviously, there have been special roles that I wanted to continue with, but it just wasn’t part of my path; it was somebody else’s plan. Everything happens the way it’s supposed to.

Let’s talk about your character's tattoo and the beautiful engagement ring I saw on opening night. Who is he? How did it happen?
My fiancé—his name is Joe Tapper, and he's an actor. In the play, the [fake] tattoo on my arm is my father’s name, because my character's name is Lauren Tapper; and in my life, it’s my fiancé’s name. If I’m going to walk around with a tattoo all day long, it may as well be my future husband’s name.

Are you having fun planning your July wedding? Big wedding, small wedding? Laid back? Bridezilla?
It’s in the mountains of Colorado, and it’ll be quiet , with my family. I’m so not a Bridezilla [laughs]. I’m so the opposite of that, and so behind; I can’t even express to you how behind I am.

How did you meet?
Actually, we got set up! It’s like total rarity!

How did the engagement happen? Were you surprised?
I was totally surprised. We’ve been together for so many years, so it wasn’t like out of this world, but yeah, I was surprised. It happened during Dogfight, on the day off.

Where do you see your career five years from now?
I remember last year at the Drama League Awards, Audra McDonald won, and all these incredible, incredible actors up there. And I remember her saying, she hadn’t been on Broadway for four or five years, and she said that it was so nice to come back home again. I feel like any actor that has started out in the theater, the theater will always be their home. I love working in television and film, but it’s completely different. The theater will always be my home. So I would love to be a lady who gets to work in all of the mediums, and who calls the theater her home.

Don’t miss Annaleigh Ashford’s Audience Choice Award-nominated performance in Kinky Boots at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.

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