Pride fuels Torres-Falcón in SHN’s ‘Kinky Boots’

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The Angels make their way into the shoe making factory in “Kinky Boots,” running through May 22nd in San Francisco. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

There was a time in his life where Juan Torres-Falcón looked at his brown skin and felt shame.

New York City has a way of cutting someone to his or her core. And to a young man who first embarked on the Big Apple after the safe and familiar territory of his hometown of Miami, the lessons he learned in the audition rooms of New York were harsh.

“I wanted to be that white, Caucasian that was 5’10” and played a myriad of roles, but I was full of self-loathing and self-doubt,” said Torres-Falcón. “That is so not who I am and that was paralyzing in auditions. I tried to fit in so desperately in order to make myself more employable and commercially viable.”

While the 29-year-old Torres-Falcón continued his own self-exploration in the cutthroat world of commercial theatre, he was given the opportunity to play the loving and gentle Angel in “Rent.” For him, this was a major turning point in his career, a role that is full of pride and nobility.

“When I finally did ‘Rent,’ that’s when I decided to work,” said Torres-Falcón, a Cuban-American. “For me, here is what it is, I am a super gay Hispanic from Miami, miraculously gay and terrifically Hispanic, and the career that I wanted was being stopped by my inability to play who I am.”

Who Torres-Falcón is now is a ferocious performer, a dazzling dancer, a New York University grad, and a person who has a firm grasp on who he is. And he is choosing to make San Francisco a very special part of his history.

Torres-Falcón is in year two of the national tour of “Kinky Boots,” which stops at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre from May 11th through the 22nd. It’s the story of young Charlie, who reluctantly inherits a shoe factory. Charlie’s inspiration to build better footwear is sorely lacking, until he meets drag queen Lola, who is having issues keeping her women’s shoes from breaking. An unlikely partnership ensues and a factory in a small British town gets a rather sparkly makeover.

Juan-Torres-Falcon1
Juan Torres-Falcón

Torres-Falcón is one of the Angels, the sublimely athletic drag queens who split, sway and swag out all over the stage; all while wearing shoes that might make stilts look like pumps.

Playing this role nightly was something Torres-Falcón believed he could do when he first heard about the production when performing in “West Side Story” on a tour. And once he set his mind on auditioning for the show, it was not a matter of if, but a matter of when.

“I told myself that if I auditioned for the show, I was going to book it,” said Torres-Falcón. “I knew it was in my wheelhouse, the vocabulary of movement is totally my thing. It has this awesome, sexy jazz feel and vocally I knew it was going to be right.”

It certainly runs the gamut of styles, with pulsing rock, delectable funk and some dazzling power ballads. The show, with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein, garnered six Tony Awards in 2013, including Best Musical, Best Choreography and Best Score. That choreography was created by Jerry Mitchell, who also directed the show.

When it comes to Latino characters in the American musical theatre, Torres-Falcón admits to having played and read it all. And one of those hallmark characters he played is Paul from “A Chorus Line.” Paul is nestled deeply in a closet hiding his sexuality, and at one point in the audition for a role on the chorus line, Paul relays the story of when his father discovers his son is a drag queen. In a pathos-filled scene, Paul explains to the director Zack about how his father spoke to another dancer, asking him to take care of his son.

Yet what is fascinating about that journey is Torres-Falcón has taken on another drag queen character with a very different disposition. The Angels are loaded with pride and joy. They bounce, prance and strut all over the stage, and if someone has a problem with it, well too damn bad. And for Torres-Falcón, the pride that is on display nightly, in no small part thanks to his mother’s love and support, is pride he hopes others in the audience can grasp.

“I wish that chubby 14-year-old Latino in Miami could have seen ‘Kinky Boots,’” said Torres-Falcón, referring to himself 15 years earlier. “I hope this show touches everyone. That’s what our show does. Our show is very openhearted and very open arms.

“It’s seen by very conservative and very liberal people and everyone can enjoy it.”

“Kinky Boots” is a wonderfully entertaining piece, first and foremost. But for Torres-Falcón and his cast mates, there is so much more than that.

“If people feel that our show is cheesy or saccharine, they are so missing the mark of what it’s trying to do,” said Torres-Falcón. “We are trying to elicit a smile, trying to create joy, remove stigma and encourage curiosity. That’s why ‘Kinky Boots’ works. The main character is a drag queen, one who is gender fluid, and it is special to see or feel for a character like that in a big gay musical.”

For Torres-Falcón, this particular tour stop will be his last. After spending years on the road, one of the last original members of the tour, the desire for a more stable life in New York has finally pulled him back to the East Coast. Leaving after San Francisco is an opportunity to end his tenure in a place special to him.

Which means that for him and his love for the Bay Area and San Francisco, this stop is the perfect one to say goodbye.

“This show has been the greatest joy of my entire career,” said Torres-Falcón. “Touring is not easy but I leave filled with love and have loved every minute.”

JUAN TORRES-FALCÓN, IN HIS OWN WORDS

On the most difficult thing about performing in “Kinky Boots”:

“Drag is the most difficult. It’s not so much the application of makeup, it’s keeping it on for 12 hours on a Saturday when there’s two shows, from 11 am to 11 pm.

On the discovery that he was going to pursue a career in theatre, his education and how his Latino heritage helped his pursuit:

“I grew up with a love of musical theatre, and I went to a high school where the arts were put on high, and my mentors really believed in me. I took it really seriously as a Latino, and art, music and theatre was definitely valued in my house. In high school, I came into my own as a performer, and NYU allowed me to turn my passion into a profession.”

On his Youtube video where he did 29 death falls for his 29th birthday this past January:

“I took the weekend off for my 29th and I felt this year was so special. So I wanted to commemorate it and make a video. I had to shoot it in two hours and film a fall every three minutes.”

On Instagram and Twitter – @JuanTF

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

SHNSF presents “Kinky Boots”
Directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Music and Lyrics by Cyndi Lauper
The Golden Gate Theatre
1 Taylor Street, San Francisco, CA
May 11th – 22nd
Tickets range from $45 to $212
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission
Online: www.kinkybootsthemusical.com
For tickets, call (888) 746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com

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