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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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81st annual Dolphin Show laces up its ‘Kinky Boots’ for upcoming musical

Matheus+Barbee%2C+dressed+in+drag%2C+sings+with+closed+eyes%2C+surrounded+by+other+drag+performers.+He+is+wearing+a+glittery+dress+and+feathers.
Sonya Dymova/The Daily Northwestern
Communication senior Matheus Barbee plays one of the main characters, drag queen Lola.

Dressed in drag, Communication senior Matheus Barbee stands centerstage in Cahn Auditorium, rocking a glittery red dress and faux leather boots that rise above his knees. Six drag angels high-kick and wave red feathery fans around him.  

Barbee plays the lead character Lola in the Dolphin Show’s production of “Kinky Boots,” which opens Friday and runs through Jan. 27. Barbee dreamt of this role for years, and now he and about 180 peers are bringing the story to life in the largest student-produced musical in the country. 

“Kinky Boots” follows an unlikely partnership between drag queen Lola and shoe factory owner Charlie — and what it means to find common ground despite different backgrounds.  

Dolphin Show aims to use its wide-reaching audience to push for positive change with its 81st annual production, according to director and Communication senior Alexa Goldstein. 

“With the attack on drag and how it’s seen as something to fear when it’s really this beautiful living art is just something that needs to be seen on stage,” Goldstein said. “It’s uplifting and celebrating drag as a community and also marginalized identities, bringing those stories to the forefront.” 

For Barbee, “Kinky Boots” is special because Lola is one of the first characters in musical theater canon to center Blackness and queerness in the plot — a celebration of his identities through a story that “spreads joy” through drag. 

With elaborate outfits galore, the musical is full of “campy moments,” according to Communication freshman Henry Jones, who plays factory employee Don. For many audience members, producer and Communication senior Ryan Nguyen said, this will be the first drag performance they’ve seen. 

“I’m really excited to break those boundaries,” Nguyen said. “No matter who you are, you’ll definitely see a part of yourself on this stage and in the show. There’s so much magic within seeing such fun and humanity and celebration of diversity and individuality come alive onstage.” 

Getting ready to go live is a monthslong process. Actors had to master the art of walking in heels and adjust to quick changes backstage. Goldstein said this is a “monster of a production,” with extensive wigs, makeup, costumes and set design to fill the over 1,000-seat venue. The Dolphin Show’s total budget was about $100,000, according to Nguyen.

Communication junior Sam Hernandez, plus a team of nine, individually cut and glued hundreds of pieces onto the boots used in the production. It took three months to design the costumes for one of the main scenes alone. She said she wanted everyone to look at Lola’s outfits, which are based on RuPaul, and say: “That’s a statement.” 

Throughout the costuming process, Hernandez centered building “relationships of trust” among actors to ensure everyone felt comfortable and confident in drag. 

After about 20 to 30 hours of weekly rehearsals, meetings and fittings, according to Barbee, the show is ready for the public.

“It’s such a spectacle of a show,” said Communication junior Abraham Deitz-Green, who plays Charlie. “As students, we are the generation of the future, and I think our voices have the power to use this medium of art to make meaningful, impactful change.” 

This year, Dolphin Show partnered with the Student Activities Assistance Fund to offer “pay what you can” tickets for students. Goldstein said everyone who wants to see “Kinky Boots” deserves to attend. 

Dolphin Show is also running community events, such as the Kinky Cats Drag Show on Jan. 24, hosted by Chicago drag queen Coco Sho-Nell and directed by Communication junior Alex DeVito, who plays angel Christian. On Jan. 26, Dolphin will host an alumni event at Prairie Moon for all past members.

“You will come for the drag,” Barbee said, “but you will stay for the heart.” 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @karapeeler

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