These Boots Are Made For Walking// How T-Town’s Nick Burroughs Became Kinky

 

Published Originally on April 13, 2015

Nick Rashad Burroughs knew he would be on Broadway one day. Maybe in a decade, he thought, but it was destined to happen.
As a recent graduate of the University of Alabama, Burroughs had convinced himself that he might not make it on Broadway for another five or 10 years. But he had coached himself to keep faith and to keep auditioning, because his time on the stage would eventually come.
He graduated in May. It came in July.
He was walking through the terminal of a North Carolina airport when he got the call. As an actor, it was not unusual to make frequent travels to the concrete jungle for callbacks. This was his seventh. He had gotten the hang of these trips, and, once again, he was on his way back home to Birmingham.
When he picked up the phone, he was given news sent from heaven. To those around him, it appeared as if he was given a death sentence. Tears were rolling down his cheeks and his body trembled with emotion. Bystanders in the terminal approached him to see if he was all right. He was more than happy to explain the good tidings.
The young actor had been cast as the understudy for the lead role of Simon in the Broadway production of “Kinky Boots,” an adaption of the 2005 film. The musical revolves around a struggling shoemaker who enlists the help of Simon, a drag queen (who goes by the stage name Lola), in making a successful line of “footwear” to save his business. Since its debut on Broadway in 2013, the musical has been nominated for 13 Tony Awards and has taken home six.
Though the casting astonished Burroughs, the true surprise was that he only auditioned for the national tour, not the Broadway show in New York City.
Initially, Burroughs was not very confident that he would get the role. His competitors were much older, more seasoned, and had more Broadway credits than he did.
“And I was brand new and it was extremely shocking to me,” Burroughs said.

It was a rare occasion. Jeffrey Tangeman, the head of directing and stage management programs at the University of Alabama, said that while Burroughs had the talent, it was the timing that had caught him off guard.
Tangeman met the young actor in the fall of 2013 as a student in his directing class. He recalls how friendly and approachable he was from the beginning. That same night saw Burroughs audition for the theatre program’s fall lineup. His mind was blown.
After seeing Burroughs act and sing, the director remembered thinking to himself, ‘If that is what we do here in this department, if that is the kind of student that we train as actors, we are doing something right.’
Tangeman was not surprised that he got the part. “He is perfect for the role,” Tangeman said. “He is something special. I felt that in the time that I knew him, he was going to do great things. What you never know is how quickly these things happen for someone, because the industry is so fickle. I mean, you never know. He is ambitious in a good way, and he’s got it all.”
Burroughs was discovered through “Bama on Broadway,” an annual senior showcase trip to New York held by the university. Graduating students have the opportunity to showcase their talents in front of a handful of casting agents in the hopes of being signed. Last year, over 20 students attended. According to Tangeman, all received at least one call back. “Kinky Boots” was his first and only post-showcase audition.
While his website says that he has been performing since he was three, theatre had not always been a passion of his. In his time at Shades Valley High School, he had planned to follow his family’s path in athletics, lettering in football and track and field. At one point, he even considered applying for a collegiate athletic scholarship before he discovered theatre.
In what he called a “joke”, Burroughs auditioned for a play, “Separate but Equal,” one of the many plays entered in a statewide competition. Burroughs won the award for best performing actor. At this moment, Burroughs knew that this was something that he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
Fast-forward a few years later, Burroughs is now in New York, on Broadway. As the understudy and member of the Angels, the show’s featured ensemble, he is always on his feet or in his heels. It took him quite some time to master the art of wearing the musical’s signature stilettos, and he had consulted one of his drag friends to master the trade. It paid off.
On Saturday, January 17, Burroughs made his debut as the lead role. Tony award-winning and lead actor Billy Porter had fallen ill, and the young actor was given his time to shine, and to finally do his job. He performed both the matinee and evening shows as the head drag queen.
“Tonight was an ultimate dream comes true,” Burroughs said on his Facebook that night. “Words can’t express what I was feeling tonight. I never thought I would actually be performing as a leading man on Broadway with such an electric audience.”
His audience has grown from students and faculty at the Capstone to the likes of former NFL player Michael Sam and his partner, Jonathan Bennett (Mean Girls), Lea DeLaria (Orange Is The New Black), lyricist Tim Rice and many other prominent figures. He has even hugged X-Men star and Broadway veteran Hugh Jackman.
“There is something about the way he moves,” said Shea Smitherman, a current UA student that knew him during his time at the Capstone. It was during their time in Alpha Psi Omega, the honorary theatre fraternity on campus, when she realized just how talented he was. His movements: majestic and unexplainable. His voice: belting and powerful. She said she remembers how much he would doubt his talent, just how talented he was.
Tangeman could not stop speaking highly of his former student. He claimed he is the “the most humble man that you would ever meet.”
“And even if he had a little bit of an ego, you could forgive him,” Tangeman said.
Though almost a year has passed since he first set foot on Al Hirscfeld Theatre, and though he has worn those signature boots daily, Broadway still has that “new-car smell”, and Burroughs still can’t believe his dreams are coming true. Playing a man who plays a woman makes for a great transformation, Burroughs said. Many people have known him for his explosive and magnetic personality, but wearing a wig and red high-heel boots is an entirely different story. He is a man empowered.
“I feel like I transformed from a man to Beyoncé.”

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