Jerry Mitchell has directed or choreographed a parade of Broadway hits, from “Hairspray” to “La Cage Aux Folles” and “Legally Blonde” to “Kinky Boots,” which opens its weeklong Twin Cities premiere run Tuesday at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Minneapolis.

“Boots,” in fact, has become a virtual cottage industry with Mitchell at the epicenter — which explains why the three-time Tony Award winner was in a tizzy last week in New York after losing his cellphone.

When he finally called a reporter on a borrowed phone, he did not want to discuss the show right away, though.

He wanted to talk about the Twin Cities area, the place that gave him his first professional break.

“In my early 20s, I started out at Chanhassen [Dinner Theatres], where ‘Joseph [and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat]’ was one of the very first things I choreographed,” Mitchell said. “And it ran for two years and then I did ‘West Side Story’ out there, and it ran for a while, too. I worked under [directors] Jon Cranney and Gary Gisselman.

“I even won a Kudos Award from the critics out there, and I’ve still got my medallion. Oh, such fond memories.”

Cranney remembers it vividly, as well.

“It all started in Holland, Mich., where there was this summer theater program, the Paw Paw Players,” Cranney said. “A friend of mine, who asked me to do ‘Joseph,’ said he knew this young person from the area, and roped him in to do the show. We just had a whale of a time.”

In addition to this touring production of “Boots” — which also is still going strong on Broadway more than two years after it opened — Mitchell is opening a version in London soon, and working with producers in Australia and Japan on stagings there, too.

Meanwhile, his newest musical, “On Your Feet!” centered on music superstar Gloria Estefan, is prepping for its Broadway bow.

“It’s been a crazy year,” he said. “The curse of having a hit show that turns into an industry.”

 

Based on director Julian Jarrold’s 2005 film of the same title, “Boots” revolves around Charlie Price, who has inherited his father’s failing shoe factory.

He meets Lola, a drag queen with a fondness for fancy footwear, and the two bond as she helps to save the company.

With a book by Harvey Fierstein, with whom Mitchell collaborated on “La Cage,” the show features the music of pop singer/songwriter Cyndi Lauper, the “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” hitmaker who made her debut as a Broadway composer with “Boots.” She won a Tony for her “Boots” music, while Mitchell won one for choreographing the show.

Although Lauper was a newbie, she was easy to work with, Mitchell said.

“When [producer Daryl Roth] asked me to do the show, I watched the movie version. There’s a great scene in the bathroom with these two men who couldn’t be more different — one a cross-dresser, the other in love with this girl — but are getting to understand that they’re really the same person underneath their skin and clothes.

“I wanted that crystallized. And Cyndi wrote this song, ‘Not My Father’s Son.’ Everybody thought it was too long but it captures the complicated feelings and the bonding that happens between them. They’re both failures in their fathers’ eyes.

“I said, ‘No, it’s not too long. We have to earn it, for that song is amazing.’ And it is.”

The craft behind ‘Boots’

One thing Mitchell loves about his job is the research he gets to do. “Boots” is set in Northampton, England, so he traveled there — and even learned how bespoke shoes are made.

“Two weeks ago I was in London for the first week of rehearsals there. I went to the same factory that I’d gone to before, and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The same cobblers were running the exact same machines, and they were happier than hell about what they were doing.

“They have this mastery of a craft. Craftsmanship at the highest levels should be celebrated.”

That also speaks to what Mitchell finds most compelling about “Kinky Boots.”

“That would be the heart and hope in it,” he said. “Those two things are extremely important to me, and they are part of every show I do. These two men who look so different on the outside are really so close on the inside. That’s a lesson, about seeming difference, that we can all use these days.”