Art imitates life for Kinky Boots star

Musical theatre performer Jos N. Banks is not so different from the lead character he plays in Kinky Boots called Lola, a feisty drag queen.

The musical, which opened at the Sands Theatre in Marina Bay yesterday, is based on a true story where a man takes a gamble by transforming his family's shoe factory production line with the help of Lola.

He incorporates her creativity into a new line of footwear.

To Banks, it was art imitating life. "Lola ends up becoming a designer and it's something she's appointed to do, but she didn't see that in herself at first, and that's kind of how design happened with me," says the 28-year-old Chicago native.

Along with being a performer on stage, Banks is also a costume designer for the stage.

He says: "In school, my instructors knew I liked to draw and they said to me, 'You like fashion too... Why don't you just merge the two?'And that's how I got into costume design."

In Kinky Boots, musical theatre performer Jos N. Banks plays drag queen Lola.
In Kinky Boots, musical theatre performer Jos N. Banks plays drag queen Lola. PHOTO: BASE ENTERTAINMENT

Having been part of the nine-month-long North American leg of the tour and playing more than 200 shows as Lola, Banks is an old hand at the role, which sees him making quick changes in and out of drag.

He describes each show as a marathon.

"From the moment I enter the show, I don't sit down. If I'm off-stage, it's because I'm changing my costume, my wig or make-up and then I'm walking right back on."

He adds: "I'm the only Lola in all of the companies that does my own make-up."

In fact, he is so skilled at the make-up that he can put on a full face in 15 minutes.

As for the iconic, red, thigh-high patent leather boots the show takes its name from, putting them on every day is a transformative experience for the performer.

He feels that in order to play Lola, "you have to be true to yourself because that's what makes people fall in love with you and the character".

"One of the messages of this show is to stay strong in yourself and know that you're enough, which sounds simple, but it's not something people get early on in their journey," he notes.

"It's something I haven't always had, but once I realised that - what I have is my own uniqueness - it's changed my whole world."

As for whether the shoes, which are custom-made for the performer, are uncomfortable, he says: "When we were in rehearsals, the shoes did hurt because we had eight-to nine-hour-long days.

"But now that we do the show, I can literally run in them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2018, with the headline 'Art imitates life for Kinky Boots star'. Print Edition | Subscribe