Home People Profile Bham People Area’s Cecil Washington Jr. Has Leading Role in RMT’s Kinky Boots Production

Area’s Cecil Washington Jr. Has Leading Role in RMT’s Kinky Boots Production

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By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times

Long before he became an actor, Cecil Washington Jr. was known to be dramatic. Or at least that’s what he was told.

“My cousins and my friends in high school [Holy Family Catholic High School], they would always say, ‘Cecil, you’re so dramatic, you should be an actor,’ and I didn’t understand them saying I was being dramatic. I said, ‘I’m just being me,’ and then I started thinking, ‘Perhaps I should put this to good use.’ If they think I’m dramatic, maybe I should make some money from that,” Washington said.

And that’s exactly what he did. The Fairfield, Alabama native has appeared in more than a dozen productions and beginning June 3 will star in “Kinky Boots” at Red Mountain Theatre (RMT) in downtown Birmingham, in a run which lasts until June 26.

“Kinky Boots,” a 2012 musical based on a film of the same name, tells the story of Charlie Price, who forms a partnership with drag queen Lola, played by Washington, to save a failing shoe factory Price inherited from his father.

Washington is used to playing classically masculine characters in roles like Martin Luther King Jr in “The Great Society” or Mister, the abusive older husband of young Celie in “The Color Purple.”

However, this year he’s played cross-dressing mad scientist Frank-N-Furter in an Austin, Texas run of “The Rocky Horror Show.”

During that run, numerous audience members told him that he would be great in “Kinky Boots.”

Toward the end of the Texas shows, Washington got confirmation and told audiences that “Kinky Boots” would be his next project.

Acceptance

Despite the range of his roles, the actor said his approach has remained the same.

“I want to honor what the writer has put on the page, and I go full tilt, with all my roles. If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it all the way. I don’t want to half step. I know some actors would be a little afraid of how it might make them look…” Washington said.

While some actors may worry about losing certain roles because of characters they’ve played, he’s not worried.

“Will I get hired to play another strong male lead like Mister? I’m not concerned about that at all, only because I know that if I approach this as an actor playing a role, that’s how [other people] should see it,” Washington said.

Perhaps the most central theme in “Kinky Boots” itself, Washington said, is acceptance. While many may “zero in on” the drag queen aspect, that theme of acceptance is expressed more broadly through Charlie and Lola, the two main characters.

“It’s just about accepting people, human beings, right where they are because there are almost two different storylines…The way the story is set up, you see that although Lola is a drag queen, and Charlie identifies as a heterosexual man, they have almost the exact same story,” Washington said.

“When people come to see it, I hope that they can see the correlation, how those two people–I even say it in one of my lyrics—’we’re the same,’” he added.

Since RMT gave him his first gig in 2006, Washington has performed in numerous shows there, including “Dreamgirls,” “Memphis” and “Porgy and Bess,” among others. While he doesn’t normally live in the Birmingham area anymore, Washington said he’s always excited to perform back home.

“I am always elated to come home, not just because Red Mountain was my first professional job outside of undergrad, but most of my family’s here. My parents are still here in Fairfield, but I know that the last role Birmingham saw me in was Porgy in ‘Porgy and Bess,’ so I’m very interested to see what they get from me playing Lola. I hope that they embrace my versatility,” Washington said.

 

Fairfield Native

 

A native of nearby Fairfield, Washington grew up going to the Holy Family Catholic Elementary and High Schools, while both of the schools were still located in Birmingham’s Tuxedo neighborhood.

He attended Alabama State University (ASU) in Montgomery, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in theatre arts, and then to the New York School of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan, where he earned a certificate in film and television.

Washington, 40, has performed in numerous theatre shows including “Men with Money,” “Sunday in the Park” and “The Sam Cooke Story,” in addition to multiple appearances in independent films, commercials, music videos and even TV shows like “Law and Order.”

However, it wasn’t until his time at ASU that he had any actual experience on the stage. Washington started school studying biology but quickly switched to studying theatre after moving into Montgomery.

“My freshman year, I got into a musical, and I started as a dancer…I had stage fright like no other. No one ever believes me when I say that, but one of my professors told me, ‘The best cure for stage fright is being on the stage,’ so that’s where I stayed,” Washington said.

After his decision to begin studying and performing theatre in college, Washington said, his parents, Cecil Sr. and Amelia, as well as his sisters, have always been incredibly supportive of his career and “will travel in a car, packed, for 10 to 12 hours just to see one or two performances.”

“Out of all of the shows that I’ve been in since college, I think they’ve only missed maybe three or four, and that’s probably because of scheduling or how far [away] I am,” Washington said.

The run of “Kinky Boots” will be “colorful” from the costumes, the lights and the characters on display, Washington said. The actor said he really wants people to take to heart the message of the play, “Just try one person.”

“If you have a hard time accepting people that are different, just don’t worry about focusing on a group. Just start with one person. Just leave [the show] with accepting someone,” Washington said.

For tickets and more, visit www.redmountaintheatre.com