Pittsburgh’s Accomplished Wilsonian Actor Makes His CLO and Benedum Debut in ‘Kinky Boots’
By Sharon Eberson
What Wali Jamal lacks in enthusiasm, he makes up for in … forget it. When it comes to enthusiasm, Jamal is not lacking.
Nor is he lacking in talent, which has taken a new path after 25+ years on Pittsburgh stages.
The only performer known to have performed in all 10 plays in August Wilson’s American Century Cycle, plus the solo show How I Learned What I Learned, is on the Benedum Center stage for the first time through July 10, playing factory manager George in Pittsburgh CLO’s first homegrown production of Kinky Boots.
The show follows the movie, based on the real-life story, about two men whose chance meeting changes their lives. With music by Cyndi Lauper and a book by Harvey Feirstein, the Tony Award-winning KInky Boots unleashes drag queen Lola (DariusHarper) as she teams with Charlie Price (Brian Sears) to make boots fit for a drag queen and save Charlie’s failing shoe factory in Northern England.
That Jamal has appeared on stages big and small over the years – from Pittsburgh Public Theater to Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company to barebones productions’ Braddock black box – but had yet to be the Benedum stage seems like an oversight that has now been corrected.
Jamal answered five questions about his CLO and Benedum debut via email, while on the run from the final tech rehearsal to opening night on Tuesday.
onStage Pittsburgh: Is this your first Benedum appearance and your professional musical debut? Do you have any musicals in your background?
JAMAL: This is my first time performing on the Benedum stage. I saw countless movies there. I had front-row tickets to see Funkadelic when it cost $8 a piece. The last time I was there was to see pre-slap Chris Rock. Kinky Boots is my Civic Light Opera debut. It’s not my first musical though. I performed as Horse in The Full Monty (Stage 62), Newt in Parade (Front Porch Production), Frederick Douglass in The Civil War (Stage 62), and installments of the yearly Pittsburgh revue, Off the Record.
OSP: You are a man of many voices, so how was it finding a British accent for George?
JAMAL: Jumping into the English dialect was relatively easy considering I mimicked a variety of dialects since childhood. I watched a lot of Benny Hill, Monty Python, Dr. Who, etc. Plus, we were fortunate to have a dialect coach, Lisa Ann Goldsmith, to help polish us up.
OSP: What was it like putting on those boots and moving in them? Did you get any tips from the choreographer or the actors who have been in the show before?
JAMAL: The 5-inch knee-high boots are quite an experience. I never thought I could stand, let alone dance in them. But the reward is when I enter wearing them! There will never be enough to be said about the actual drag queens in the show. These are seven of the most phenomenal performers I have ever seen, let alone performed with.
OSP: I put on the song Raise You Up / Just Be when I need to feel joy. Was that positive energy in the room during rehearsal?
JAMAL: You have to look hard for a more spiritually uplifting number to be inspired by. I love it, and it will be quite some time before I stop humming it and hearing it in my head. Beautiful number!
OSP: What is it about this story that you relate to or care about sharing with an audience?
JAMAL: The overall message that I get from this show is acceptance of other people regardless of how odd they may seem because it might be your cousin, best friend or your sons and daughters. This is a monument to those ideals, besides that fact that it is one of the most kick ass shows I’ve ever performed in! So invite everyone who wants to be entertained like never before, because Kinky Boots delivers.
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