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Andy Kelso returning to signature role for final weeks of Cyndi Lauper’s “Kinky Boots”

January 7, 2019 


Terry Frei 


For eight shows a week, for a total of nearly three years in two stints, University of Northern Colorado 2002 graduate Andy Kelso played one of the lead roles, Charlie Price, in the hit Broadway musical “Kinky Boots.”

He’s about to add about 100 performances to that total in a much-hyped return to the cast in the long-running show’s final months at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre in New York. His third stint as Charlie begins Friday and is scheduled to conclude with the April 7 closing of the show after a six-year run.

Kelso last played the role in September 2017, and when I spoke with him Monday, he was scrambling, getting ready for his limited rehearsals, which started Tuesday.

“I only have a few days, so I will be kind of feeling like I’m being shot out of a cannon,” he said. “A lot of it comes back, but as I’m going through it on my own, and I hit a spot where I go, ‘Oh, what happens here?'” He laughed and added, “So rehearsal will be necessary.”

It’s another major credit for UNC’s renowned School of Theatre Arts and Dance. When those at the show check out Kelso’s bio in the Playbill, whether before opening curtain, during intermission or after the show at Carmine’s, they see his proud mention of UNC — and it’s all spelled out to make sure all know he isn’t from the University of North Carolina. He came to this UNC after graduating from Eaglecrest High in Aurora.

Playing the young owner of the Northampton family shoe factory he inherited, forcing his return from London, Kelso sang his parts in the Cyndi Lauper-written score. He danced. He did both at one point as he balanced and maneuvered on the factory’s moving conveyor belt. And he drew laughs with his spoken lines (in a British accent) from the book by Harvey Fierstein, who can make, say, a fire station poker game funny.



Yes, in the Playbill from the January 24 performance of Kinky Boots, that’s Tiki Barber as Andy Kelso’s castmate. Kelso is at top right.

In the show, revamping the failing shoe factory to make “Kinky Boots,” instead of selling out to make way for condominiums, turned out to be brilliant, though it costs Charlie his fiancee, Nicola. Late in every show, Kelso even donned the garish Kinky Boots themselves, ended up with the woman — for a significant stretch played by fellow Coloradan Annaleigh Ashford, a Wheat Ridge High School graduate — that was right for him, and wobbled through the curtain call.

The End.

Eight times a week.

The longevity in the same leading role means he passed the test of maintaining enthusiasm and not mailing it in, because Broadway powers can’t be fooled. A few years ago, I told Peter Lockyer, who played Jean Valjean in the national tour of  “Lis Miserables,” that I marveled at and appreciated the energy of him and the company at a Thursday matinee in Denver.  If you’re ever going to go through the motions, it’s at a rare Thursday matinee. He responded that he for years had a sign in his dressing rooms saying someone out there was seeing their very first show.

Kelso already has played Charlie over a thousand times.

He has come a long way from his days in Greeley, and it’s all very unlikely. An acting major — as in, “To be or not to be, that is the question…” — Kelso appeared in UNC plays, but in only one musical, “West Side Story.” Even that was in a supporting role. He performed in Greeley and in Denver with his band, Dizzynova, but had no plans to be a song-and-dance man on Broadway.


Andy Kelso’s Playbill bio mentions UNC.

But that’s what he’s known as now in the theater world. He’s considered enough of a marquee name that the “Kinky Boots” producers recently splashily announced, with an eye on a late box-office rally before closing, that they were bringing in Kelso to play his signature role for the show’s final performances. Producers earlier also signed on former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber to play the surly factory foreman, Don, from Jan. 21 through March 3.

“Kinky Boots” opened on April 4, 2013. In the original Broadway cast, Kelso played the supporting role of Harry and understudied the role of Charlie. But he took over from Stark Sands as Charlie in January 2014 and stuck with it the first time until August 2016. During his first break from “Kinky Boots,” he appeared as Lenny on the widely praised but short-lived Amazon series, “Good Girls Revolt,” and then did the  two-month return as Charlie in 2017.

And now he’s going back.

“I’m super-excited because it’s kind of a full-circle moment for me, from being able to be a part of the cast when it opened, and then also to be a part of it when the show closes,” Kelso said. “It’s just such a cool thing, a cool kind of accomplishment. A lot of the people who were part of the original cast are still in the company, so it’s kind of like going home to friends and family. After you’ve been in the show a while, it’s nice to have some time away. Now I’m jumping into it completely fresh and I can’t wait to get back on stage there.”


Andy Kelso as Charlie and Tony winner Billy Porter as Lola in “Kinky Boots.” (Matthew Murphy photo.)

Sands also returned once for a limited run as Charlie, in late 2017, but now Kelso gets to close the show. The final stint means Kelso will have played Charlie for more than half of the show’s six-year run. It’s unusual that a replacement lead has become so identified with the role. The show’s original Lola, Billy Porter, won a Tony for the role and now is a star of the FX drama “Pose.” He is the best-known among the original cast, but Kelso and Sands have been success stories, too.

Kelso was raised in Aurora and attended Eaglecrest High School before starting out at Colorado State and transferring to UNC.

He moved to New York in 2003 and worked as a waiter in the theater district while waiting for his break.

Eventually, he landed the role of Sky in the ABBA jukebox musical “Mamma Mia” and played it on Broadway for three years. Next, he was Fiyero in the national tour of “Wicked,” returning to Denver for a six-week stand.

And then came “Kinky Boots.”

By the time “Kinky Boots” closes, Kelso will have played two roles — in that and “Mamma Mia”— for a total of six years.


Andy Kelso as Sky in “Mamma Mia.” (Joan Marcus photo.)

Because he never originated a role on Broadway, he hasn’t been eligible for a leading-role Tony Award nomination but has become a prominent name in the theater world despite that. Most recently, he had a starring run as Jerry in “The Full Monty” in the Pittsburgh CLO summer musical series. That was notable because his father, Steve, is from Pittsburgh.

Kelso now lives in Maplewood, N.J., with his wife, Sheila, and their infant son Jude. And he still credits UNC, including noted and since-retired acting professor Tom McNally, with being influential in his career.

“It’s awesome to see how many alumni have been just working their butts off and having a lot of success out here,” he said. “It’s great to be a part of that, in that group. I’m absolutely thrilled to be a part of the UNC alumni group who are just killing it.


Andy Kelso, center, starring as Jerry in Pittsburgh CLO’s “Full Monty” last summer. (Matt Polk photo.)

McNally Monday said that at UNC, Kelso was “a terrific academic student,” and added: “He came to class hungry. He was very interested in the acting process. He didn’t want to just get up and perform. He wanted to know, was there a way he could have a process by which he could tell, ‘This is going well,” or, ‘This is stuff I still need to work on.’ When he was first here, he played Torvald (the lead) in a production we did of ‘A Doll’s House.’ He wasn’t quite there yet, but what he did at that age … Even from day one, even when his technique was not where it is now, I had this sense whenever I would see him in anything, when he’s on stage, he’s telling the truth.

“The other thing at UNC was, who knew he could sing?” McNally said, adding that didn’t really come out until Kelso did some shows at the Country Dinner Playhouse in the Denver area after graduation.

“He’s the best kid ever,” McNally said. “I hope he keeps his, for the lack of a better word, unnecessary but at the same time charming humility. He’s still this wide-eyed kid who goes, ‘I’m on Broadway?’ ‘I’m in this national tour of Wicked? OK.'”

 UNC's Broadway performers


The University of Northern Colorado’s School of Theatre Arts and Dance lists the following alumni as having made it to Broadway … shows:

Joshua Buscher – West Side Story, Pricilla Queen of the Desert, Big Fish, Kinky Boots
Ryan Dinning – Machinal
Jenny Fellner – Wicked, Mamma Mia, The Boyfriend, Pal Joey
Scott Foster – Forbidden Broadway, Brooklyn
Greg German – Assassins, Biloxi Blues, Boeing/Boeing
Patty Goble – Bye Bye Birdie, Curtains, The Woman in White, La Cage Aux Follies, Kiss Me Kate, Ragtime, Phantom of the Opera
Derek Hanson – Anything Goes, Side Show
Tamara Hayden – Les Miserables, Cabaret
Autumn Hulbert – Legally Blonde
Aisha Jackson – Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Waitress, Frozen
Ryan Jesse – Jersey Boys
Patricia Jones – Buried Child, Indiscretions
Andy Kelso – Mamma Mia, Kinky Boots
Beth Malone – Ring of Fire, Fun Home
Victoria Matlock – Million Dollar Quartet
Jason Olazabal – Julius Caesar
Laura Ryan – Country Roads: The John Denver Musical
Lisa Simms – A Chorus Line
Andrea Dora Smith – Tarzan, Motown
Erica Sweany – Honeymoon in Vegas – The Musical
Jason Veasey – The Lion King
Jason Watson – Mamma Mia
Alena Watters – Sister Act, Addams Family Musical, West Side Story
Wysandria Woolsey – Chess, Parade, Beauty and the Beast, Aspects of Love, Phantom of the Opera, Cats

A more extensive list of UNC alumni in theatre, television and film industry is here.  



Andy Kelso singing the national anthem at a 2014 Broncos game. (John Moore photo, Denver Center for the Performing Arts.)

Among the many other UNC alumni who have made their mark in the theatre world, 1996 graduate Beth Malone was a 2015 Tony nominee for Best Female Performer in a Musical, for portraying Alison Bechdel in “Fun Home.”

Raised in Castle Rock, Malone began at Loretto Heights College before it closed, then eventually finished up at UNC. She also is known for her star turn as “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and the Muny in St. Louis. More recently on Broadway, she appeared in the revival of “Angels in America” last year.

Also, UNC lists as a former student Joshua Buscher, who also is in the wining-down “Kinky Boots” cast with Kelso. Buscher is a “swing” and assistant dance captain.

And UNC also lists Aisha Jackson, currently the Anna standby in the Broadway hit, “Frozen,” which had its tryout run in Denver last year.


Andy Kelso as Fiyero, with Mamie Parris as Elphaba, in the national road company of “Wicked.” (Joan Marcus photo.)


UNC graduate Beth Malone as “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”



In 2014 and 2015, the Best in Show winner at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was rewarded with a one night, walk-on part in the Broadway musical “Kinky Boots.” University of Northern Colorado graduate Andy Kelso was playing Charlie Price both times. Here in 2014, he’s at left, with Sky, the wire fox terrier and Best in Show; Billy Porter (Lola); and another Coloradan, Wheat Ridge High School graduate Annaleigh Ashford (Lauren). (Kevin Thomas Garcia photo for Kinky Boots.)



UNC product Aisha Jackson of “Frozen” 

PART ONE ON ANDY KELSO: Yes, the neon lights are bright