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Jun 18

Interview with Paul Canaan of KINKY BOOTS

Before seeing Kinky Boots, I got to sit down with one of the angels of the show (literally!), Paul Canaan, and talk about the production, how be came to be where he is today and other odd, or shall we say “kinky,” questions!

How did you get your start in theater? Have you loved it since you were a kid?

I was a gymnast. I was just a physical kid who loved to flip and dance and be crazy. I was hyperactive, and my mom told me that the community theater was doing a production of Bye Bye Birdie. They were looking for gymnasts and kids who could flip, and asked if I wanted to be in it. To be honest, I was kind of like “I don’t know what that is…but okay.” So I got into this show, Bye Bye Birdie, and I was doing tumbling passes during “Telephone Hour” and all this hootenanny. I just loved the costumes and the people and the singing. It was the first time I had ever found something I loved.

What happened next? Where did you go to college?

I went to Brigham Young University in Utah. They had a major called Music Dance Theater (MDT). It’s valuable because you take dance classes with dancers, and singing classes with singers, and acting classes with actors.

Do you consider yourself more of a dancer?

Actually more of a singer… then a dancer, then an actor.

When did you learn you could sing? I always thought you got your start in dance!

Well I was a gymnast, so I could flip, but I didn’t take dance. My high school had a stronger vocal department, so I took opera lessons, and I sang in all the choirs. When I was in high school, we came and sang at Carnegie Hall for a sort of classical Requiem situation…and then on my 18th birthday I came and saw Billy Porter in Grease on Broadway with Rosie O’Donnell and I freaked out and I was like “What is this?? I wanna be on Broadway!”

And now you perform with him every night on Broadway? Did you ever think that would happen? 

Well we’d actually worked together teaching kids, so that the first time I worked with him and got to know him. I was actually cast in Kinky Boots and working on the show before he was, so when I learned that he was in the mix for Lola, I was like “Billy Porter, Billy Porter!!”

Whispering his name in every ear…

(laughs) Yeah. Not that it’s up to me at all. But he’s great, I’m very proud of him. He deserves everything he’s getting.

So you play an “angel” in the show– I love that title.

Yeah, we’re kind of Billy’s backup girls. It’s very fun.

The heels you have to wear…someone in the cast has already twisted their ankle! Are they as hard to walk in as I think they are?

Well I’d done La Cage, so I was somewhat used to heels. But these are higher and thinner, and they come up to mid-thigh at moments so they’re hard to move in. They’re pretty stiff. They don’t have a lot of give. They kind of strap ‘em in and tighten them and then you’re like “Goodness. I have to dance in this? Okay.”

So you’ve been in Legally Blonde and La Cage Aux Folles. Those are some great credits! What else should we know about your past experiences?

I came to New York to do Miss SaigonI literally auditioned in Salt Lake City and then they asked me if I could be in Miss Saigon and move to New York and start in two weeks towards the end of my senior year of college. I also joined Thoroughly Modern Millie about four months into the show’s run and I was with them for about a year and a half.

Have you had to work any odd jobs?

I’ve been lucky, but I’ve definitely paid some dues. I played an internet game with cards that came out at Toys ‘R’ Us. I taught kids how to play it online. They could log on with a code and play skateboarding games virtually. I liked working with kids, but I didn’t like working online. But it paid the bills! I also had a blast teaching with Camp Broadway once upon a time! I’m all about arts education and how to do that.

That’s such a big deal. Where I’m from, there’s really not much for people to do. You have to choose (in High School) singing OR dancing OR acting, which doesn’t seem like great prep for Broadway.

Well, I think if you expose people to creativity in general at an early age, you let them evolve out of it – I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I still don’t know what I want to do. But I like being in cool places with cool people and I know I like to dance and sing. I don’t always get to do all those things in shows, but I’m glad that, as a kid, I had access to all those things.

Besides Kinky Boots, what has been your favorite production to be in?

I would say up until this one, Legally Blonde. It’s been great getting to work with Jerry [Mitchell] not only on this show but also on La Cage and Legally Blonde.

Do you have one night from any production that really stands out for you?

Probably Opening Night of any production, but especially this one. This one was especially amazing. But Legally Blonde too, because I grew up in San Francisco and Legally Blonde was out of town there, so it was fun to have my family and High School there.

Do you have any advice for kids who want to be on Broadway?

I would say get whatever you can get your hands on, in anyway you can. Study. Even if you don’t have classes, go online, read scripts, go see shows if you can, take master classes. Come to New York if you can! If you love theater, there are a lot of different outlets you can do, so do all of them. There’s no one way to get Broadway.

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