June 17, 2024

Solomon Parker III is ready to fill these ‘Kinky Boots’

When director Jason Loewith and the Olney Theatre Center brass put together the budget for a revival of “Kinky Boots,” the 2012 pop musical featuring songs by Cyndi Lauper, funds were set aside for several out-of-town actors to round out the cast. Among the roles Loewith thought he might have a tough time filling: Lola, the fierce drag queen played on Broadway by Billy Porter in a Tony-winning breakout.

But that was before Solomon Parker III, a Silver Spring native raised some 15 minutes down the road from Olney’s campus, strolled in for his audition. A staple of the D.C. area’s stages since 2015, the 28-year-old actor already knew the part after understudying it for a 2020 production at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia. What’s more, he began performing in drag as his alter ego Echinacea Monroe shortly after that run. And Parker describes the character as “very familiar” when comparing Lola’s complicated past to his own story.

“He walked in and he owned the role,” says Loewith, who is also the theater’s artistic director. “It was better than if Billy Porter had walked in the door. He was just amazing. He had already made such great choices in the audition. He knows the story in and out. It is very personal to him. It’s a role he was frankly born to play.”

Audiences may recognize Parker from his supporting turns in such musicals as “Grace” at Ford’s Theatre and “The Color Purple” at Signature Theatre, but “Kinky Boots” marks the actor’s most prominent lead role. After starting performances last week, the flashy production is scheduled to run through March 26.

Inspired by true events and adapted by playwright Harvey Fierstein from a 2005 film of the same name, “Kinky Boots” tells the story of a foundering English shoe factory that, with Lola’s help, pivots to producing drag-queen-friendly high heels. Once Lola is introduced via the raucous cabaret number “Land of Lola,” the cocksure character opens up while wrestling with issues of identity, homophobia and familial strife on the heart-rending ballads “Not My Father’s Son” and “Hold Me in Your Heart.”

Solomon Parker III, center, in “Kinky Boots” at Olney Theatre Center.

“I have managed to breathe life into Lola because I’m really familiar with this kind of person,” Parker says. “I am a dark-skinned African American male who is very comfortable with their masculine energy. I love when people see me as a protector. I love when they are like, ‘He is very strong and he is very confident.’ But my inner child was told to subdue my feminine energy. With this process, I want the audience, I want the company to feel this inner love that I have for myself, that I have for this community.”

Although Parker didn’t land the role of Lola when he auditioned for the Toby’s production, the experience of understudying the part and playing one of Lola’s backing dancers left a lasting impact. A few months after that “Kinky Boots” run ended, Parker debuted his drag persona at a Zoom birthday party for fellow actor Jade Jones. Once the coronavirus lockdown ended, Echinacea Monroe — a name Parker derived from the herb that singers use to sooth their throats — started performing in clubs, hosting fundraisers and competing in pageants.

Parker explains that inhabiting Echinacea is a much more spontaneous experience than the more carefully choreographed performance he delivers as Lola. Still, living in Echinacea’s skin for nearly three years left Parker all the more connected to Lola’s story. Now, he describes previously missing out on the part — before introducing Echinacea — as a “blessing in disguise.”

“There is nothing more perfect than Solomon in this role,” says Vincent Kempski, Parker’s “Kinky Boots” co-star and longtime friend. “It is the easiest thing in the world playing opposite him because I know that what he’s giving is very true to his nature and is very in tune and in touch with experiences he’s had in his life.”

That extends to some of Parker’s struggles. In “Kinky Boots,” Lola and her father are estranged after clashing over her femininity. Although Parker makes it clear that his bond with his own father is less fraught, he acknowledges that “there are definitely major parallels.”

Solomon Parker III in “Kinky Boots” at Olney Theatre Center. (DJ Corey Photography)

“My dad was definitely stifled by expectations that are put on men to be masculine, to hide their emotions and hide their feelings,” says Parker, who notes his father didn’t see him perform professionally until attending a performance of “Grace” last year. “So him [raising] me, the biggest ball of self-expression and gender expression, … those similarities [between myself and Lola] are so, so clear. I think that people will see that in the performance, and in the honesty that I can bring to the character.”

Reflecting on their collaborations over the years, Kempski describes Parker as someone who “always gives that same love and exuberance and energy — and just vaults it at you.” Loewith echoes the sentiment, recalling that Parker raised the bar from the first “Kinky Boots” reading by arriving with an infectious enthusiasm befitting his top-billed status. “Every day,” Loewith says, “is fun and joyous and hilarious.”

That mood feels particularly appropriate when considering the production is a goodbye party of sorts. After previously planning to relocate to New York in 2020 before the pandemic intervened, Parker says he plans to make that long-awaited move, seek representation and pursue a Broadway career after “Kinky Boots” closes.

As someone whose Instagram bio says “future EGOT winner,” Parker is unsurprisingly ambitious.

“I am at a point in my life where I love theater, and I’ve given 100 percent of everything I have to it and will continue to do that,” Parker says. “But I’m also moving to invest in other parts of my life, to find other cultures, to grow my amazing community, to challenge myself. I am anxious about it, but I would be doing myself a disservice, and everyone who believes in me a disservice, if I didn’t go to the concrete jungle where dreams are made.”

If you go
Kinky Boots

Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd. 301-924-3400. olneytheatre.org.

Dates: Through March 26.

Prices: $42-$95.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Freebird Boots | Mizuno Shoes | Tory Burch Canada | Double-H Boots | Wolverine Canada | Bionica Shoes | Born Shoes Canada | OOfos Shoes | Kate Spade Canada | Belleville Boots | Xero Shoes Canada | Tony Lama Boots | Roper Boots | Maguire Shoes | Adams Shoes | Olukai Canada | Vionic Shoes | Royer Boots | Lane Boots | Nobull Sneakers | Beis Canada | Sam Edelman Boots | Coach Outlet | Samsonite Canada | Resistol Hat | DeMellier Bag | Rieker Canada | Marc Jacobs Canada | Hobo Handbags | LOWA Boots | Vivobarefoot Shoes | OOFOS Sandals | Dolce Vita Boots | Drew Shoes | Hoka Shoes Canada | Taos Shoes | Kizik Sneakers | Born Shoes Redback Boots | Brunt Boots | Sam Edelman | oofos shoes | born shoes | on cloud shoes | keen shoes |