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Alan Mingo Jr., who plays Lola in Kinky Boots, now appreciates what women do to be glamorous.

Cylla von Tiedemann

'I don't feel like we're teaching Toronto residents anything new, because I feel like you're living it." In the snazzy musical Kinky Boots, Alan Mingo Jr. plays Lola, a drag queen with big shoes and a bigger heart. We spoke with the Maryland native about divas, diversity and cheesy delights.

Kinky Boots opened in June, on the night of Toronto's Pride parade, right around the same time the news was being dominated by the U.S. Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. Can you talk about the play, in the context of what was going on that opening weekend?

Everything was falling in line. It was kind of surreal. I'm so proud of this production – it's at the right time. Quite frankly, in America, we only talk about a lot of things that Toronto is already living: That we can be different cultures, that there are different ways of thinking, but that we can still live in harmony.

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In what way have you experienced that accepted diversity here?

I was here in April during a press junket, and it hit me within the first two minutes of walking through our first TV studio. You can tell a lot about the culture just by the posters hanging on the walls, and the kind of news programs you guys produce. I found it to be really striking, and it hit me right away that the posters were multicultural.

Have you experienced it elsewhere?

I haven't done the sightseeing I want to do. I live downtown, though, and I absorb the culture watching people – seeing people going to Blue Jays games. In America, we talk about multiculturalism, but here it's integrated and it isn't a big deal.

Okay, multiculturalism, but please tell me you've experienced some good old hoser-Canadian culture. Have you tried poutine?

Oh, let me tell you. I tried to not have it. Because I knew it would be a guilty pleasure and that I would fall in love with it. But I jumped off the wagon a couple of days before we opened. It is amazing. But I have to do it in moderation, because I could have it every day, and I still need to fit into my dresses.

In one of the reviews, the critic wrote that you seem to be channelling Gregory Hines and Diana Ross. Can you respond to that?

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All my dresses were inspired by different divas, whether it's Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige or Mariah Carey. For my own inspiration, I wanted to reach back to the divas and stars that influenced my life and being in this business. One was Diana Ross, so the fact that they picked up on that was great.

What's it like performing in the gowns and big shoes?

These costumes are all hand made, all made to fit me. All the shoes are handmade. So you feel pampered when you're in them. I love it. I'm having a blast. My feet are taking a beating though.

I doubt the women cast members have any sympathy for you.

They don't. I have a better appreciation for the women and what they go though for beauty. I mean, these shoes are no joke. My feet swell up, and I ice them after every show. I called my mom one day, when my legs were cramping up. I said: "I don't know how you guys do this." It's a lot.

Kinky Boots, tickets on sale to Nov. 8, $35 to $130; Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W., 416-872-1212 or mirvish.com.

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