Graham Scott Fleming: giraffes, puppies, country rock and Kinky Boots
BY DREW ROWSOME-
"I'm six-foot-one and the heels are six inches, so with the boots on I'm a pretty tall giraffe," says Graham Scott Fleming of dancing in the footwear that Kinky Bootsis named after. Dancing, let alone walking, in the kinky boots was a challenge but "there were no injuries. Everything is custom fit with 15 measurements from thigh to toe. It's a lot easier than if I was to go out and try to buy a pair."
Fleming is kicking up his heels as Charlie Price in Toronto's version of the hit musical. "It's been incredible," he says. "It's such an amazing show and the audiences are so responsive." Centrestage at the Royal Alex Theatre is the culmination, so far, of a career that began in the ensemble of Legally Blonde. Fleming stood out for his energy, powerful voice and charismatic smile.
"I heard of the auditions and though it was mostly a Sheridan cast, I weaseled my way in," says Fleming. "LOT brought me into the Toronto theatre scene, it was my schooling. I give them a lot," he laughs at the bad pun, "a lot of credit." From a chorusboy in Legally Blonde, Fleming moved on to become one of the quartet making up Forever Plaid. "They just needed someone with a big range," he says somewhat disingenuously. That led to leading, and very diverse, roles in LOT's Rent, Avenue Q and Next to Normal.
Fleming's career continued its upward trajectory with a US national tour of Hair, the country rock musical Somewhere With You off-Broadway and now Kinky Boots. "I'm doing my best and enjoying it," understates Fleming. "It's a huge responsibility. We never stop rehearsing, the acting coach was just in." As were other helpful teachers.
"Even getting to meet, but to work with inspiring people like Cyndi Lauper . . ." says Fleming of Kinky Boots' composer. "She's the queen of pop. She taught me to sing in the pocket." Fleming's biggest Kinky Boots moment comes during one of the show's many 11 o'clock numbers. Spotlit and alone, he launches into "Soul of a Man" and fills the theatre with sound and emotion. "Cyndi says that song is like cutting a vein and letting all the heart and passion spurt out. It's emotionally exhausting, a real challenge. To think you're succeeding is exciting and the audience reaction validates the hard work."
The other genius behind Kinky Boots is Harvey Fierstein who wrote the book. "Harvey is quite a character," says Fleming. "To transfer the message from the movie into a musical, it's insane. Condensing such a powerful message into two-and-a-half hours. He told us, 'You're not acting for yourself or for your scene partner. Not even for the audience. You're acting for the message.' He's all jokes, Kinky Boots is very, very funny, but when it comes down to business . . . Our hard part in rehearsal was made easy because of the words."
Fleming's physical looks help him hold his own with the powerhouse and flamboyantly-clad cast of Kinky Boots, but he politely chides me for not seeing the movie when I ask if he the role of Charlie Price is usually cast as a redhead. Is he riding the crest of Ginger Nation and Red Hot, of redheads being the sex symbols du jour? "I wish," he laughs. "I wish. Though when I walked into the audition for Kinky Boots, the director Jerry Mitchell gasped, 'You look exactly like Stark Sands.'
Kinky Boots is scheduled to run until January 3 but Fleming is enjoying it so much he hopes the rumoured extension happens. After that he is ready for whatever new challenge comes along. "I've been inspired to work on my own tunes and I've been collaborating with country star Jason McCoy. I started in country. In a small town that's all I listened to. I have an appreciation for every style but country rock is what gets my heart going. It's my roots. It's my homeboy."
But the present takes precedence over the future, Kinky Boots is a demanding show but rewarding. "My life has completely turned around. Audiences are eating Kinky Boots up and I have a partner now, we met during the audition process and we just took on a puppy together." Fleming laughs, "A new puppy. His name is George. He's a goofball just like me."