David Cook: How Broadway Keeps Him on His Toes

David Cook talks Kinky Boots, his new music, and the cause that he stands up for.

photo credit: Matthew Murphy

photo credit: Matthew Murphy

David Cook, American Idol season 7 winner, took to a new stage recently — a Broadway stage — playing Charlie Price in Kinky Boots at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre until May 5th. Cook's character, Charlie, finds himself forced to make the decision to either take over his father’s failing shoe factory, or create a life for himself on his own terms. When he meets Lola, a drag queen and a force to be reckoned with (played by Wayne Brady through April 26th), Charlie finds life inspiration in an unlikely new friendship.

I had the opportunity to chat with David about his Broadway debut, his new EP Chromance, and the charity that he’s passionate about.

KG: David, congratulations on your Broadway debut! Is it everything you thought it would be, or what about this experience has surprised you the most?

DC: I'm not sure I really had any expectations. I knew it was just a completely unique experience. I knew that it was something that I'm proud I get to do, but I didn't know really the ins and outs. More than anything, I was just anxious, like, what do I have to do to not screw up? I remember the first show was just like this two-and-a-half-hour panic attack. I'm a textbook overthinker and I tend to think ahead, particularly during my shows, so this has forced me to kind of stay in the moment and be present. It's teaching me all positive things, but it's a little unnerving. I'm really just loving the process of it. I'm loving getting to work every night with a great cast and great crew. It's a community experience that you don't really get as much as a solo artist, so I'm loving it; I really am.

KG: What was harder: learning to walk in those red high heel boots, or speaking with an English accent?

DC: Yes, is the answer to that question. The accent was a little easier only in that I kind of lucked out with whatever British accent I can fake my way through just happened to fall somewhere within a spectrum that worked. The boots are still a learning process. I have tripped, I have torn up the boots and had to get them repaired... If they bring me back it's not going to be because of my grace in high heels; I know that.

KG: Do you have any rituals before you go out on stage?

DC: I've got a few, yeah; it's typically just warming everything up. You know I stretch. I do the hair. I have to cover up my tattoos on my arms so that's about 30–40 minutes of me putting makeup on, and then stretching, vocal warm ups and all that fun stuff. I don’t have anything super quirky — I don't like, you know, have to eat a cheeseburger ten minutes before I go out on stage, although that sounds pretty awesome; I wish I could do that.

KG: Why haven’t we seen you on Broadway sooner?

DC: Timing is everything; whenever the conversation would come up in the past it was always that I had shows booked, or I'm recording, or whatever, but this just fit perfectly. It was a shorter run. I'm only on for five weeks, so it was a nice way to kind of dip your toe in the water and see if it was the right temperature and see if it's something you enjoy, and you know I could say that I thoroughly enjoy this process. Just to get to wear a different hat — to challenge myself in different ways — it's been really reinvigorating. Yeah, hopefully I get to do more of it.

KG: What about this show spoke to you? Why did you want to be a part of this production?

DC: I think the story is important. I think it's topical. You know there's a lot of shows on Broadway right now (and in the theater community at large) that are great shows — a lot of spectacles, super entertaining, great music, great acting — but I think it's a little more rare to find a show that really has a message that feels current and resonates, and I feel like this show is one of them. Inclusion, love, acceptance I think are all things that all of us — you know left, right or center — could use a little bit more of.

KG: I think we all can relate to your character, Charlie Price. My first job was literally selling men’s dress shoes and it was a job that I didn’t necessarily want at first either; have you ever had a job that you felt wasn’t a great fit?

DC: Oh, my dear God, how much time do you have? Listen, I have put together furniture in the back of a furniture store, I was a mascot for a restaurant, I was a waiter at a barbecue restaurant — which is why I don't eat coleslaw ever; yeah, there's been plenty of those. To be fair, I'd always enjoyed music, but it wasn't really until college where I thought, like, maybe I could carve out some niche of a career doing it. I am so fortunate; I would not thrive, I don't think, sitting at a desk doing data entry, or something. So the fact that I've been able to find a career, and make a living where I can be creative every day and work around creative people, is pretty fantastic.

KG: Wayne Brady is currently in the show playing Lola; how has it been working with him?

DC: Wayne is as advertised and then some. I’ve done enough improv to where I understand the concept of “Yes, And…” — you know just embracing the scene and going along with it, but Wayne keeps it fresh every night. He brings such a great energy and life to Lola, and to the play. I can certainly say I'm never bored on stage with him; it's not monotonous at all. And off stage he’s a giving human being — he lifts up everybody around — so I yeah, I can't say enough good things about Wayne.

KG: What will you take away from this experience and do you think that you’d like to one day take on another Broadway role?

DC: You know what I'm taking away from this is really just learning to stay in the moment, learning to be present — especially with acting. I think with a show like this where you're doing it night in and night out it's easy to project ahead and say, I got to act this way and then make that action before that line is said, so I'm learning how to be at peace in the moment and not worry about what's coming next because I've been rehearsing the show for five months; I know the show. I would love to continue doing stuff like this. Yeah, I think there's not a shortage of good roles out there. I think for me, the litmus test would be: does it excite me, does it present a challenge for me and allow me to grow?

KG: You won season 7 of American Idol, but you didn’t plan on auditioning for the show — your brother Andrew was auditioning and you were there to support him — but then the producers noticed you, and you went on to win the whole thing. Why didn’t you plan on auditioning originally, and is Andrew still pursuing music?

DC: It wasn't like I hated Idol or anything like that. I just think to that point Idol had been more of a country/R&B/pop kind of experience and I didn’t know that I necessarily fit there, so it just wasn't immediately something that I thought of. I think the producers noticed me because I looked like an idiot with ridiculous hair, but yeah, whatever worked I guess. Andrew is actually a teacher now; he teaches 5th grade.

KG: Your new EP Chromance was released in February. Explain what the title means and how the music on this album differs from your previous albums.

DC: The title is just kind of a merging of two words. I felt like this record represents the darker colors of love. All the songs are by definition love songs, but they're not necessarily sugary sweet love songs, so playing with that idea Chromance is just the chromatic key of the color wheel mixed with romance, is what the title is. There was more of a concerted effort with this record to attack more synth sounds to bring some more cinematic pop to what I've been doing. I felt like the last record, Digital Vein, was a great bookend for that period of my career, and I think challenge has been the name of the game for the last couple years. I wanted to challenge myself and write something else and I felt like this record represents that.

KG: On May 6th you’ll once again be taking part in Race For Hope raising money for brain cancer — a cause that is near and dear to your heart. How can fans partake or donate?

DC: You can go to my website. Go to DavidCookOfficial.com, you can find the links, (if you're not able to make it to DC), or you can go to Race For Hope's website and register to be a part of the race. You can donate to my team (David Cook's Team For A Cure). It is an amazing event. There's a reason I go back every year and that's because they’re doing great work — ABC2, and The National Brain Tumor Society. I'm a big proponent of trying to get rid of this damn disease, so to be a part of this and hopefully help to get a little bit closer to it; I'll be there as long as they'll have me.

KG: David, do you have any closing remarks?

DC: Everybody, come out to Kinky Boots! I’m here till May 5th.