Oldham's Callum Francis heads to Broadway to star in Kinky Boots

PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 February 2019

Callum is now on stage in Broadway (Picture: Darren Bell)

Callum is now on stage in Broadway (Picture: Darren Bell)

not Archant

Callum Francis is walking tall as he takes over a starring role in the hit musical Kinky Boots on Broadway.

Callum, centre stage, with the cast of Kinky Boots (Picture: Helen Maybanks)Callum, centre stage, with the cast of Kinky Boots (Picture: Helen Maybanks)

The news that Callum Francis had been picked to star on New York’s Broadway prompted a joke in his proud family. After the initial elation subsided, dad Seymour and mum Tracy recalled that Callum’s first foray onto any stage, during his primary school days, had been in a production of The Wizard of Oz at St Herbert’s parish centre....on Broadway, Chadderton, Oldham.

‘My dad always laughs that I started on Broadway and I’m ending up on Broadway,’ says Callum, aged 30. The role which has taken him there – for a nine-week run at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre – is that of drag queen Lola in Kinky Boots. Which means that Callum has now donned Lola’s frock and heels on three continents. He began understudying the role in the London production, then starred in the Australian tour, returning to tour the UK with Kinky Boots before heading off to New York.

So Callum has spent a good portion of the last few years dressed as a woman. ‘My mum says I’ve been a woman for only a short period of time but I’ve got a better set of clothes and shoes than she ever had,’ he jokes. ‘I kind of look like my mum. A lot of people who see me say my mannerisms are like my mum, which is valid because, as a gay man, she’s the only female inspiration I’ve got in my life. I guess, subconsciously, I’ve taken on what she does.’

Kinky Boots The Musical, based on the 2005 film of the same name, tells the story of a young man who inherits an ailing shoe factory, and forms a partnership with drag queen Lola to produce a new line of extravagant footwear.

Callum shows a leg in the musical (Picture: Helen Maybanks)Callum shows a leg in the musical (Picture: Helen Maybanks)

‘It’s a brilliant message of acceptance,’ says Callum. ‘It’s about changing people’s minds and perspectives. For me, it’s six-inch heels every night, which is difficult. But the hardest part is the vocals. My accent and the way I speak is quite low and subdued. But Lola, as a character, is very loud, brash and full-on. So my voice takes a beating.’

The musical was created by singer-songwriter Cyndi Lauper. ‘She’s an absolute character, a really nice lady,’ says Callum. ‘I still find it strange that she knows my name.

‘My parents came to the opening night in Sydney. I flew them out as a treat to say thanks. My mum is a big fan of Cyndi and on the opening night they had a really good chin-wag. It was great.’

Despite his successes in recent years, Callum did not have a life-long yearning to perform. ‘I was painfully shy as a child,’ he says. ‘At birthday parties, I would walk in, give them the present and go hide in the corner until it was time to go home.’

Callum, left, meets meets shoe factory boss Charlie, played by Joel Harper-Jackson (Picture: Helen Maybanks)Callum, left, meets meets shoe factory boss Charlie, played by Joel Harper-Jackson (Picture: Helen Maybanks)

After St Herbert’s RC Primary School and Our Lady’s RC High School in Royton, Callum went to City College, Manchester, to study dance.

‘I didn’t realise at this point that I had a voice,’ he recalls. ‘When I was there, I saw various musicals at the Palace and Opera House.’

Realising his destiny, Callum applied to drama schools and spent three years in ‘intense hardcore training’ at Laine Theatre Arts in Epsom, Surrey. After graduating in 2010, he had a succession of roles, many in London’s West End, including Miss Saigon, The Lion King and Ghost. Understudying Lola in London, Callum jokes he was ‘waiting for Matt Henry to fall down a flight of stairs’ – a distinct possibility when singing and dancing in six-inch heels.

When he went to Australia as the star of Kinky Boots, Callum was surprised by just how much passion for the theatre the country has and he was regularly recognised in the street. In 2017, he won the prestigious Helpmann Award for best male actor in a musical, pipping his partner Ainsley Melham, Sydney-born star of the musical Aladdin, to the prize.

Though he’s been busy performing on both sides of the world for the last eight years, Callum only made his proper debut on a Manchester stage in November, when the UK tour of Kinky Boots came to the Opera House. That was yet another opportunity for his family, who still live in Chadderton, to see Callum on stage.

‘I get most nervous when my parents are in,’ he says. ‘When they saw it the first time, they loved it, my mum and dad and my grandma and grandad. I can remember my grandad had a picture of me in the red dress on the background of his phone. They are the reason I am where I am, because they are so supportive.’

Being back in Manchester with Kinky Boots meant Callum had a proper English Christmas after two summery Christmases in Australia.

‘Seeing the Christmas market in St Ann’s Square definitely made me feel I was at home,’ he says. ‘Manchester has changed so much since I left 12 years ago. With my partner being here with me, we explored it together.’

Now he can explore New York, the home of musical theatre, but also the home of some legendary acid-penned critics.

‘I just don’t read reviews at all,’ says Callum. ‘I like the part I’m playing and I know I can play it. I’ve got loads of friends who read reviews and love the good ones and hate the bad ones. I just do what I do.’

Most Read

Comments have been disabled on this article.

Most Read

Latest from the Lancashire Life