Kool Kat of the Week: Tiffany Engen Just Wants to Have Fun in Shoe-Stopping Broadway Musical KINKY BOOTS

Posted on: Mar 29th, 2016 By:
Lauren (Tiffany Engen) dances with shoes on her hands in the Broadway tour of KINKY BOOTS. Photo courtesy of Austin Northenor.

Lauren (Tiffany Engen) dances with shoes on her hands in the Broadway tour of KINKY BOOTS. Photo courtesy of Austin Northenor.

By Geoff Slade
Contributing Writer

Broadway hit KINKY BOOTS opens the Atlanta leg of its national tour on Tues. March 29 and runs through Sun. April 3 at the Fox Theatre. Multiple Tony Award-winner Harvey Fierstein (TORCH SONG TRILOGY) wrote the book, and Tony, Grammy, Emmy and my heart winner Cyndi Lauper (mostly this and this) wrote the music and lyrics. Check here for show times and ticket availability.

The musical chronicles a shoe factory in trouble and reborn thanks to a performer’s desire for sturdy stilettos. Inspired by true events and based upon the 2005 film of the same name, KINKY BOOTS premiered in Chicago in 2012 before its Broadway debut in 2013. It was a huge success and earned 13 Tony nominations, winning six, including Best Musical and Best Score for Lauper (the first woman ever to win that award by herself!). It began its US tour in 2014.

Kool Kat of the Week Tiffany Engen (Lauren) is one of many actors among the principal cast with impressive Broadway, Off-Broadway, film and television roles under their belts (including Jim J. Bullock). She previously performed in the Broadway and first national tour productions of LEGALLY BLONDE, the movie HAIRSPRAY (2007) and the TV shows RAISING HOPE and SMASH.

Tiffany took a few minutes before the opening of this week’s Atlanta run to chat with ATLRetro about the musical, her favorite roles and a little bit about life on the road.

Where are you from? How did you become an actor? What was your first production? How old were you?

I am originally from Minnesota. I have loved singing, dancing, acting since I was a kid.  My parents took me to see shows whenever productions would be in town. In second grade I played a chicken in THE GOOSE AND THE GOLDEN EGG. I had one line. I’ve been hooked ever since!

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KINKY BOOTS on tour. Photo courtesy of Austin Northenor.

Which of your past performances are you most proud of?

I feel very lucky to have worked on some incredible shows.  LEGALLY BLONDE, HAIRSPRAY, ROCK OF AGES all have held a special place in my heart. I’m most proud of this role and this show. The role of Lauren is so fun to play. She is tough, bold, vulnerable, funny and sassy. This show is so special and has touched so many people. I’m so proud to be a part of a show that is changing people’s hearts and minds.

If you had to play one role for the rest of your career, what would it be?

This one!!!

Before taking on the role, were you familiar with the KINKY BOOTS movie? The Broadway production?

Yes, I was a fan of both the film and the Broadway production. I actually got to see a run-through of the Broadway production before they moved to the theater. And even in a rehearsal studio with no lights or costumes you could feel that this show was special. 

What should we know about your character?

Lauren is a factory worker at Price and Son. She is not afraid to speak her mind to her new boss, Charlie. I love that she is the one who says the factory needs to find a niche market to cater their product to. She provides the lightbulb moment for Charlie. 

KINKY BOOTS on tour. Photo courtesy of Austin Northenor.

KINKY BOOTS on tour. Photo courtesy of Austin Northenor.

How long will you guys be on the road? Where else are you performing?

I joined the company in November and we have played wonderful cities. The tour has dates booked well into 2017, so I’m so excited that it has been embraced by theaters across the country. After Atlanta we head to Kansas City then LA, Seattle, San Francisco—the list goes on.

What should Atlanta audiences expect?

A joyous, thought-provoking, entertaining night of theatre. This show won six Tony awards including Best Musical. We love it when people say that this is the best show or their favorite show they have ever seen!

How would you describe the music?

Cyndi Lauper has written and incredible musical score that is unlike anything you’ve heard before. She writes ballads that will break your heart and then turns around and writes a foot-stomping finale that radiates joy in every line. 

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Fatty Claus Got Run Over By a Reindeer: A John Waters’ Christmas Finds Cheer in the Season’s Kookiest Carols and Whacked-Out Stories

Posted on: Dec 11th, 2013 By:

Forget a War on Christmas! A John Waters’ Christmas, Thursday Dec. 12 at Variety Playhouse, prefers X-Mas and puts a refreshingly raunchy “X” into it with a darkly comic adults-only one-man show of holiday mayhem and mischief. The variety show pays homage to the tradition both of the holiday album and the TV special, but for those who cringe at listening to Christmas carols, Waters digs out the most cringe-worthy of holiday tunes. But he delivers the kitsch with the mastery he’s known for as a twisted storyteller and showman, sharing anecdotes as much as music – offbeat stories drawn from his personal holiday experiences and a voracious appetite for scouring the media. From all accounts, the result is the absolutely perfect  glam/gross-out gift we expect from the director of PINK FLAMINGOS (1972), the odoramic POLYESTER (1981) and the knock-it-out-of-the-closet hit HAIRSPRAY (1988).

In a recent TIME Magazine interview about the tour, Waters laments so many lost opportunities for Christmas albums from Pussy Riot to rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard. He seems genuinely giddy that Johnny Mathis has a new one out! But that’s Waters’ charm–his absolute enthusiasm and embrace of the tacky, the trashy and the odd–and sometimes even the insanely mainstream. If Pia Zadora ever recorded a holiday tune, you know Waters would be proudly playing it. And since she’s now torch-singing in Vegas, who knows?!

Waters’ Christmas live show takes off from his own 2004 compilation of hellacious and hilarious holiday tunes, from ditties that celebrate Santa’s weight like “Here Comes Fatty Claus” by Rudolph and Gang and the jazzy, jingly “Fat Daddy” by Paul “Fat Daddy” Johnson, Baltimore DJ and the “300-pound King of Soul,” to the twangy, whispery  “First Snowfall” by Chicago lounge-core band The Coctails. There’s also “Little Mary Christmas,” by Roger Christian, who co-wrote Jan and Dean’s “Dead Man’s Curve” and several Beach Boys tunes,  head an excruciating sentimental and horrible tale of a crippled orphan named Mary who finds new parents on Christmas Day. Tiny Tim, perhaps the most frightening pop star ever, creepily croons the worst ever warped version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and Waters, never afraid to push our racial comfort boundaries, also includes the chirpy and controversial “Santa Claus is a Black Man, a soulful revision of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” sung by AKIM, the daughter of  Grammy Award-winning songwriter/producer Teddy Vann with his Teddy Vann Production Company. It wouldn’t be Waters, without indulging his inexplicable love for the ear-shatteringly squeaky with Alvin and the Chipmunks‘ “Sleigh Ride.” Oh, and nothing may be more horrifying than Little Cindy’s “Happy Birthday, Jesus (A Children’s Prayer). Little Cindy apparently also released such singles as “If Santa Was My Daddy” and the B-side “It Must Have Been the Easter Bunny.”

What else can we say about John Waters except that we’d be happy to listen to him read the phone book! Because we know by the 10th name, he’d have an anecdote to unleash which would make us laugh and maybe gag, too. After all, this man is the master of the gross-out from his one-time comment that every filmmaker can afford a barf scene to Divine devouring dog poop. With that in mind, to get you into the Merry Mondo spirit, here are five more things you may or may not know about John and Christmas!

1) His favorite Christmas movie is the B-horror CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980). From the TIME interview: “It’s about the guy who is so obsessed with Santa Claus that he gets a job at a toy factory and spies on all the children to see if they are good or bad. And then he gets stuck in a chimney on Christmas Eve. It’s really good. It’s hard to beat CHRISTMAS EVIL.”

2) For the past five years or so, he’s tried to make a kids’ Christmas movie called FRUITCAKE which had Johnny Knoxville and Parker Posey attached to star.

3) John hates the Easter Bunny. (Source: The Gothamist).

4) Don’t give John a fruit basket for Christmas. “I can buy a pear, you know? It’s not so hard to find a pear. I think gift baskets should be drugs or cigarettes, things you’d never buy for yourself. I don’t take drugs or smoke cigarettes anymore, but I think a gift basket filled with them would terrific.” (Source: Oh, No, They Didn’t)

5) He sends out lots of Christmas cards. Over 1,700 according to TIME!

ATLRetro hopes to see you Thursday at the Variety! For $35 general admission or $100 VIP tickets, click here. Oh, and don’t forget to wear a “nice” sweater!

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Retro Review: The Sweet Scent of POLYESTER: Blast-Off Burlesque Taboo-La-La Presents John Waters’ Most Odor-ific Cult Classic

Posted on: Dec 1st, 2012 By:

POLYESTER (1981); Dir: John Water; Starring Divine, Tab Hunter; Plaza Theatre, Saturday, December 1 at 10:00pm; presented by BLAST-OFF BURLESQUE’S TABOO-LA-LA in ODORAMA. Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Let’s start with a question. What if I told you that, on Saturday night at the Plaza, you had a chance to experience a film in ODORAMA, a process that lets you scratch-and-sniff a card to experience with the, um, aromas of the movie you’re watching, aromas that include such delights as model airplane glue, skunk and flatulence? Does that sound like your idea of a fun weekend night?

Those of you who said “yes, please!” already know John Waters and his film, POLYESTER, playing as part of the regular TABOO-LA-LA series presented by Blast-Off Burlesque. You guys are going to be there anyway. For those of you who *ahem* politely declined, the burden now falls to me to change your mind.

John Waters is kind of a maniac, but movie nuts and those with a taste for the trashy have long considered him their maniac. Waters is a true indie, a guy whose tastes and warped sense of humor never stood a chance of playing in Hollywood, and so he made his own Hollywood in Baltimore, churning out a handful of homemade movies starring his friends, a company of actors who took to calling themselves the Dreamlanders. Perhaps the most famous Dreamlander was Divine, an actor who performed in drag and rose to fame as Waters’s muse, due equally to Divine’s incredible charisma and willingness to waltz into the darkest corners of Waters’s imagination. Divine starred in all of Waters’s early Baltimore films, never more famously (or infamously) as in PINK FLAMINGOES, which uses as its money shot a scene where Divine consumes dog shit. Did I mention that John Waters movies aren’t for the weak-stomached?

Baldly nasty content is what earned all of Waters’s early films an X-rating, when he bothered to have them rated at all. Waters sold himself as a master purveyor of camp, trash and kitsch, and his films can be endurance tests for the timid. So, Waters had to seek his audience, growing them like a culture through word of mouth. Many people watched Waters’s films with jaws dropped and raced from the theatre to tell friends who, of course, could never believe such filth existed at the cinema… and so they bought a ticket to find out for themselves. A passionate few liked what they saw and became fans for life. Waters’s movies owned midnight crowds back when late-night movies were for the deranged and the dangerous, but then a funny thing happened somewhere along the way: once the shock value numbed, fans noticed the actual craft and talent present both behind the camera and in front of it. Despite his image as the gleeful outsider with the pencil-thin moustache looking to tear down the system, Waters was the real deal, and as experience improved his work, his films became less pointedly offensive and more simply on-point. It was time for John Waters to go mainstream.

Enter POLYESTER, the film universally recognized as the transition from Waters’s early days with the Dreamlanders to an artist whose work could eventually be mined by Broadway (his hit 1988 film HAIRSPRAY eventually became a Broadway show, and then a movie musical, with John Travolta in the part originated by Divine. Times, they do change.) POLYESTER is John Waters’s take on the suburban aesthetic and weepy melodrama of Douglas Sirk, with Sirk’s painterly Technicolor tossed aside for garage-sale chic. Divine stars as a housewife named Francine Fishpaw whose marriage falls apart while her kids spin off in a variety of unsavory directions. To fully describe the plot would risk giving away many of its lightly-shocked laughs, but the movie isn’t afraid to explore. The more over-the-top the tragedy—and believe me, this clears the top by a half-a-foot–the more laughter Waters drags from the audience.

POLYESTER was the first John Waters film that could sit comfortably at the multiplex, and his first to receive an R-rating, bringing his work and his fans reluctantly blinking out into the sun. No matter which version of Waters you enjoy the most, generally everyone can agree that POLYESTER is one of his best and most accessible. In fact, The AV Club named POLYESTER as the ideal gateway into the director and his work.

And then there’s ODORAMA, the gimmick Waters cooked up to let his fans know that mainstream success wasn’t going to change him. In a nod to the showmanship of the great huckster William Castle, viewers of POLYESTER were handed scratch-and-sniff cards to keep up with the overactive olfactory system that helps Francine through the film’s plot. Now you can smell what Francine smells, and although the odors are rarely pleasant, the whole idea is just on the right side of wacky to lend the proceedings a heaping helping of charm. It’s Waters saying that it’s OK not to take his movie so seriously; he certainly doesn’t.

Blast-Off Burlesque is handing out ODORAMA cards for Saturday night’s viewing of POLYESTER, and they’re sweetening the deal with their usual variety show of burlesque performance and contests. The Dreamlanders would be proud.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.

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