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Panic! at the Disco's Brendon Urie talks Kinky Boots and brunching with Cyndi Lauper

The singer’s starring in the Broadway show until Aug. 6

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Brendon Urie is no stranger to theatrics — but even his years spent as frontman of Panic! at the Disco, a band that once headlined an elaborate, circus-themed arena tour, couldn’t prepare him for his Broadway debut in Kinky Boots.

“When Panic’s playing a show, people are singing along too. Most of the time, fans are louder than the PA, so it’s just like, ‘Oh, great, it’s a party,'” Urie tells EW. “On Broadway, you’re naked up there — metaphorically and sometimes literally,” he adds, laughing.

The Tony-winning show, now in its fourth year on Broadway, follows Charlie Price (Urie), who inherits his father’s shoe factory and struggles to keep it afloat until he meets Lola (currently J. Harrison Ghee), a drag queen with an idea that could save the business. With music by Cyndi Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein, Kinky Boots is all about celebrating and connecting over your differences. Ahead, Urie explains how he’s seen that message resonate with audience members firsthand, which musical he watched on repeat as a theater-loving kid, what brunch with Cyndi Lauper is like, and what’s next for Panic.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You play an Englishman in Kinky Boots. How did you master the accent?
BRENDON URIE: That’s very kind of you, but I don’t think I mastered it. [Laughs] Luckily, it’s Broadway, so you get away with a little bit more. You can be more cavalier. You don’t have to nail it entirely. I told them too when they offered me this job, this dream job, I was like, “Listen, I don’t have a background in acting, I did it casually growing up, but I’ve never really done the British accent.” They were like, “You’re gonna be fine.” So I wasn’t too worried. They had confidence. And luckily, it just worked out. I had like one hour lesson over Skype with a dialect coach. And that was about it. [Laughs]

You didn’t watch any British TV or anything like that?
Oh no, I did. That’s what she told me: She was like, “You sound Australian, so maybe just watch some British TV.” I was like, “Okay!” So I started watching Sherlock and Martin Freeman movies and Spinal Tap. All the British movies I love.

What’s the transition to theater been like?
I won’t lie, Broadway kinda kicks your ass into gear. It forces you to have to be this person. It’s really demanding, it’s really physical. After my first show, the next day I woke up and I was so sore. I looked at my body, and I was just covered in bruises. I had to run myself back through the play — I was like, “When did that happen? [Pauses] Ohhhh yeah… I get hit in the face and then I fall on my hip and then I punch the thing and then I bump into the guy and I fall on my other side.” It’s very physical, and I want it to be believable because you’re playing to the people in the back of the theater, so you have to kind of do big motions and big drops and all that stuff. It’s been a lot to learn, but it’s been so cool. I just have a deeper respect for everybody that does it, because it is not easy.

How have fans of Panic! at the Disco been reacting to the show?
What’s amazing about it, when Panic fans are coming, I would say 90 percent of the time when I ask if it’s their first show, they’re like, yeah, this is my first time in New York, this is my first Broadway show. That makes me so happy to be able to introduce this world that I’ve grown up loving and worshipping to people who have no idea about it, to show them how amazing this is — especially with this play and today, I would say, the message behind it is so pure and so beautiful. That was one of the deciding factors of wanting to do this play.

Chris McKay/Getty Images

Charlie and Lola don’t seem like they have much in common at first, but it soon becomes apparent that’s far from true — it’s an important message, and an especially relevant one. What kind of impact do you think the arts can have on social progress?
That’s absolutely what art is for — music, plays, movies, anything. A book. All of that is so important. If you kill the arts, you kill love, and you kill progress. It makes sense to me. Especially with this one, the message behind it is so clear and it’s so relatable. No matter who you are, there’s a character for everybody in this play. You can relate to anyone. I see a lot of people relating to [Daniel Stewart Sherman], who plays Don, this homophobic, freaked-out guy who’s not into any of this stuff, and by the end, he’s completely changed and he learns to accept someone for who they are, and it’s the most beautiful thing. Nothing’s more beautiful than pure acceptance.

Have you received any surprising reactions from people after seeing it?
The first time I saw it, this was a couple years ago, I remember watching this older couple, and there was this older man. He wasn’t really having it — you can tell he took his wife because his wife was like, “I wanna see this musical, we’re going to Broadway, you’re taking me out to dinner.” [Laughs] He wasn’t super into it for the first act. And then partway through the second act, I saw him kind of take a turn. He was watching Don the whole time and I saw him relate to Don and by the end, he was the first that stood up — standing ovation, cheering. I saw the change, it was so real. It almost brought a tear to my eye. Like, that’s what I want to do. I want to inflict some change on people.

What was the first Broadway show that had an impact on you?
When I was a kid, I grew up watching musicals. We had a live recording on VHS tape — which is a very old-fashioned sentence — we had this old video, it was Les Miz. It was the original Broadway cast, they had done a 10-year anniversary of the thing, they shot a live video of it. I would watch that constantly. Just wanting to be Jean Valjean and wanting to be Javert. I wanted to be Gavroche, I wanted to be all these characters. I would literally watch these movies and dress up — like I would pause the video, change into the costume of the person. I would be Cosette and put on a nightgown, and be like, [puts on a falsetto and starts singing “Castle on a Cloud”] I grew up just doing it and finally being a part of it is so surreal. It’s a pure joy.

Do you still want to be in Les Miz?
Oh, absolutely. If I could play Jean Valjean, I think that would be the pinnacle.

If you were going to turn one Panic! album into a Broadway show, which album would you choose?
Honestly, I would want to write some original stuff. That would be the dream, obviously, like what Cyndi did with Kinky Boots. It’s not fair because I’m always going to say the newest one [Laughs]: Death of a Bachelor, and make it like a Sinatra-type play, or like a kid who worships Sinatra or something.

So you would want to write original music for a show?
Oh yeah. I would love to. That’s another dream, working on music for a Broadway play.

Have you talked to Cyndi Lauper at all about this?
I did. The first time I met her, we had a brunch — that’s a crazy sentence. When I told my mom, she was like “What?” I was like, “Oh, yeah, we’re best friends now.” When [Cyndi] walked in, I saw this beautiful woman walking in with short hair, a cute dress, all this jewelry on, I saw her walking toward me, and I was like, “Oh my God, this is unreal.” And I stood up, and she just gave me the biggest, warmest hug. “I’m so glad to finally meet you.” We expressed that we were both fans of each other. I was like, “Oh my God, you have no idea, I worship you, Cyndi.” We kind of got to know each other, we talked music, about the play, we talked music in general, music history, music appreciation, then she hooked me up with her vocal coach so I’ve been seeing her vocal coach, getting ready for the tours and we were just talking about all kinds of stuff. She’s working on a new play. [Sighs] It’s so cool.

What’s next with Panic?
When we have the two-a-days, I don’t leave. I stay there and work on music and tour ideas. I’ll watch a movie and write lyrics or whatever. It’s definitely bizarre. There’s no way I can’t let some of the Broadway production seep into it. That’s something that’s Panic! always done, we’ve always wanted to create that production show, just mimicking Cirque du Soleil and Broadway shows, so I think that’s going to continue and only get better now that I’ve had some hands-on experience with it. I can’t wait for a live show and an album. I think it’s just going to be a lot of fun.

Brendon Urie is starring in Kinky Boots until Aug. 6.