‘Kinky Boots’ star Celina Carvajal talks about the blockbuster musical and her heavy metal band ‘The Deafening’

Celina Carvajal with the Stage Door Dish card.

Celina Carvajal with the Stage Door Dish card.

The Sex might be in the Heel but the 2013 Tonys gold is in the Boots.

Kinky Boots, which opened at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on April 4, celebrated 13 total nominations on Tuesday morning, including nods for best musical, director, actor, score and choreographer.

Celina Carvajal, who plays pseudo-villain Nicola in the musical, talked with me about why she loves being part of the show, what it’s like to work with her nominated cast, her music career with her heavy metal band and her personal favorite type of shoe.

SDD: I know that you’ve been involved with this show for quite a while. What has the process been like for you to first have it in conception, then in previews and to now have it on Broadway?

CC: It’s been a consistent process, actually. Every time I have gone in and done a reading or a workshop it has been the same energy every time. It has been good every time, it’s been a fun experience. Currently, it has been this easy feeling the whole time. Chicago was a little harder because they made a lot of changes for me but this New York run has been a breeze. It’s been amazing. It took three days to tech the show which is unheard of for a Broadway show. They made very small changes but most of the work we did was actually in Chicago so that was the hardest time. Once we got through Chicago and moved in here, there has been an ease to the show. Everyone is happy and excited. It has been wonderful.

SDD: Last time I talked to you, you were so fun because you were so excited about the show. I could tell your energy was so high. Is that continual or has it settled in more?

CC: It has kind of settled in more but when we did our first preview it was crazy. I think the whole cast was on a stage high the entire week. We were all running around like idiots. We were all so happy, with big, huge smiles on our faces. We know the product that we have and we love it. So it has sunk in a little bit more. We are in New York. It has sort of a different vibe than Chicago because Chicago was our first time. We wore the costumes for the first time, we had a set for the very first time, we had the lighting so now we’ve had that all before. We have moved into a theatre that was made for our show and it is brilliant. We are all settling in and we all have our lives here in New York. So, it’s a little bit different, but it is still so exciting being here with the product that we have on our hands. We love to do it every night.

SDD: What do you love most about being part of Kinky Boots and how does it differ from other shows that you’ve been a part of?

CC: I think the creative team is the best part of the show. I love the show itself. I have one of the harder roles because I am very isolated and I don’t see anyone ever. People don’t cheer for my character. They love to hate my character. It can be hard to play that character sometimes but in the end I get to come out and party with everyone which is nice. I think the best part about this whole process has been working with the creative team. I don’t know how to describe it. They already know how good they are at what they do so having to prove their ego is completely off the table. They are just there writing for the art. That really does affect everyone around them.

SDD: What is it like to work side-by-side with Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein?

CC: They’re great. Harvey Fierstein is just a bundle of love; he’s very loving. When you go up to him he gives you big hugs every time. He is just so wonderful. I had no idea what to expect when I first met him so I’m really happy that he’s like that. It is so nice; he is like your mother. Or even like your favorite aunt that you never get to see but you love so much. With Cyndi, she is just a nut. She is unusual. It can be confusing because sometimes she can talk to you in a way that you imagine may be a little off-setting but it’s not. Once you figure out that everything she does is from the heart and how she wants you to be good you understand her more. I really like that. She is herself and I really like that.

SDD: I want to ask about Nicola because you said that she is not the most loveable character from the show but it kind of makes her more intriguing that way. Do you enjoy playing kind of a pseudo-villain?

CC: Yeah. It’s fun to play the evil character even though she is not really that evil. I always put it like she is the republican at the democratic convention. She wants what everyone in the audience and everyone on stage doesn’t want. She’s rooting for the opposite side. She’s got her point and she’s still got a heart, she just wants different things than everybody else.

SDD: Is it more of a challenge or is it more of a joy to play that?

CC: It’s a challenge. I came out of the stage door once, it was actually the first preview, and this woman comes up to me and she touched my arm and said, ‘You’re such a bitch!’ I was like, ‘Thanks!’ She said, ‘No, no, no. I mean on stage! I’m sure you’re really nice in person.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, okay.’ So, I guess I’m doing my job right.

SDD: How has the response been for you? To kind of go through this process, and see people who are like, ‘Oh my God, you’re a bitch!’ and seeing that level of energy, because there is such a high positive energy with this show.

CC: It’s great. It just means that we’re doing our jobs right, you know? It means that people believe us and that’s what we need. We need the audience to really be involved in the show. At the end, you can really just feel it. They jump to their feet and they want to jump up on stage and put some kinky boots on. You can just feel that from the audience. People lean toward the stage, kind of like a concert. They get up and they want to sing along. I feel like they have a familiarity with the music already. When they hear it, they remember it. It feels like they know the song and they want to sing along. One night, there was this very old man in the front row, and he stood up and he was clapping along. He was trying so desperately to sing along, and he didn’t know the words, but it was so cute. It was so wonderful because he really wanted to know the lyrics so he could be a part of it.

SDD: Do you have a favorite song in the show?

CC: I think that my favorite song is “Just Be” and it’s like right at the end of the show. If I had any say in it there would be a mega-mix of this song. I just really love that song, it’s such a cool song. That was the song that I saw the guy trying to sing along to.

SDD: You had a solo in the show, didn’t you?

CC: I did and it got cut. The problem was that it was kind of making the audience wait. They all knew, they were all ahead of what was going on. Even I felt the audience was squirming in their seats just waiting for me to go on. It was the last thing I would do. We just felt like the audience didn’t care, they just wanted to go on. So it was cut. Not that it didn’t sting a little because it did but I understand that for the sake of the show, for the sake of the storyline, and for the sake of the audience, you want to move on with everything.

Celina Carvajal and Stark Sands in rehearsals for 'Kinky Boots.'

Celina Carvajal and Stark Sands in rehearsals for ‘Kinky Boots.’

SDD: How is Stark Sands as a leading man?

CC: You never know what to expect from your leading man, so it’s great. He’s great and stage, and he’s very open and very caring. I really like working with him. He supports me outside of the show as well. He came and saw my band perform and that was so cool of him to do. He’s really a team player which is awesome. That’s not something you find from the actors in your leading roles all the time. They are so focused that they don’t have time to be part of the company. Stark is really a team player.

SDD: That’s a nice transition because I want to talk about your music pursuits. Can you tell me about your band?

CC: My band is called The Deafening and we are like Guns ‘n Roses meets Muse. It’s basically like 80s hard rock but with a female crazy singer named Lena Hall who is my alter-ego. Our stage show is theatrical, as you can imagine. I had to make it interesting and over-the-top. In one song I turn into a vampire, and go out in the audience and bite somebody, and there’s fake blood everywhere. In another song I have on a skimpy outfit but I wear a moustache and a captain’s hat and I sing about being a captain of a ship. It’s just silly but it’s really fun. We just released a full-length album, and it’s called Central Booking. It’s on iTunes and everything so it’s out there. We released our first music video which is kind of a play on the theatrics. It’s a fun way for me to take control and do something creative. It’s funny because I showed Jerry Mitchell the video and he absolutely loved it. The music is not nice, it’s hardcore.

SDD: How do you go from musical theatre to heavy rock? Do you have a preference or do you feel that they complement each other?

CC: They definitely complement each other. I did musical theatre first and then I joined this band. They’ve been together for six years and we had a different name before. I think it is like if you were in charge of your own one-woman show. There’s no big difference between the two other than maybe the musical styling. With rock and roll, you are still telling a story. You’re on stage entertaining people. It just sounds a little different.

SDD: What was your band’s name before you changed it?

CC: Oh God. Don’t judge me, it’s silly, but we were called Cocaine and the Band and we were like a total joke band. We had been cryogenically frozen in the late 80s to come back and save rock and roll in the future. It was a satirical look on big-haired, 80s, glamor bands. That’s why we were called Cocaine because that was an iconic thing of celebrity in the 80s. I turned it into a musical because we had ditched all the songs and ditched the ideas. So, it was again a satirical look on the 80s and on that whole era. I turned it into a show called Cocaine and the Band: The Musical.

SDD: What makes Kinky Boots something unique and different that is on Broadway right now?

CC: It’s a story that will touch everyone that comes to see the show. There’s a lot of heart in it and it’s not a giant, in-your-face musical. But it does have that. It’s an interesting mix of a real story with real people and also with glamor. So, I think that that’s what makes it really unique because it has a really good mix of story and production.

SDD: How do you prepare before a show?

CC: I have to do my make-up and then I do some lip trills. Then I make sure I’m down there with the group. We do a group huddle. We get together and put our hands in the middle and on the count of three, we all say, “Oi, oi, oi shoes.” I make sure I never miss that. It is very important.

SDD: Speaking of shoes, obviously the shoe factor is a big part of the show. What is your favorite kind of shoe?

CC: I have so many. My favorite shoes would be thigh-high stiletto boots. I love my flat boots that I walk around in every day and usually those come up to my knees at least. So, I like boots. But they have to be the right kind of thigh-high stiletto boots.

SDD: Do you like black or colored?

CC: Oh, black. I’ve been in New York for 14 years so it’s rubbed off on me.

SDD: Do you have any unusual or hidden talents?

CC: Unusual, no, but yeah hidden. I play piano. I am a classically trained pianist. An unusual talent is that I will be really good at something, the first time I do it, and then I go down to beginner the next time. Then I have to work at it but I am usually good the first time.

SDD: Can you give an example?

CC: Like, the first time I ever played darts. I could get bulls eyes and it was no problem and then when I played again I was really terrible.

SDD: Describe yourself in five words or less.

CC: Crazy, fun, giggly, gentle and giving.

SDD: If you had the ability to remove any song from existence, which would you choose?

CC: That Gorillaz song from the early 2000s. The one that’s like, “I’m happy. I’m feeling sad.” That haunted me every night for years. It’s one of those, where if I would hear just the intro it would just stay in my head. I wouldn’t be able to sleep.

SDD: What is your current obsession?

CC: Christian Dior.

SDD: What’s the last great show you saw?

CC: It was Empire in Australia. I saw my replacement. I feel terrible, I should go see more shows.

SDD: Who was the last person who made you feel star-struck?

CC: Cyndi Lauper was when I first met her. I had a heart attack when she walked in the room. It took me so long just to have a conversation with her.

SDD: If you could change places with anyone on Broadway for a day, who would you choose?

CC: Maybe Laura Osnes because I would love to be Cinderella for a day. I haven’t seen it yet but I want to wear one of those dresses. They are so fluffy! That’s exactly why I’m looking at Christian Dior. They have all those fluffy dresses.

SDD: Who is the Broadway star you would most like to spend a day with?

CC: Gavin Creel because he’s awesome and I love him.

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About Samantha S.

"I found the theatre and I found my home.” ― Audra McDonald

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