David Cook Talks Returning to His Lead Role in Broadway's 'Kinky Boots': 'It Always Feels Fresh'

Matthew Murphy
David Cook

Ever since David Cook was crowned champion of American Idol’s seventh season in 2008, he admits he's “gotten a sick thrill of zigging when people think I’m supposed to zag.” And for a guitar-playing rocker like Cook, what zag could be more unexpected than taking on a Broadway role?

Cook made his Broadway debut earlier this year as Charlie Price in Kinky Boots -- a part that's proven catnip to rock frontmen looking to take the theater plunge, including Panic! at the Disco’s Brendon Urie, Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears and Neon Trees' Tyler Glenn -- and now, he's returning to the role from Tuesday night (July 17) to September 9 before setting out on a fall acoustic tour (launching October 25 in St. Louis).

As he prepared to lace up Charlie's shoes again, Cook spoke to Billboard about his unlikely path to the Great White Way, learning not to overthink onstage and his dream future roles (listen up, Lin-Manuel Miranda!).

Was it always your plan to eventually return to Kinky Boots?

I had a goal when I did it the first time was to do well enough to be asked back. I was very open throughout the process, saying I was enjoying it and I’d love to do it again if the opportunity ever came up. I guess the feeling was mutual because they came back pretty quick. The cast is fantastic and it was so much fun the first time around that I’m extremely excited to return.

What made the first run so memorable for you?

I grew up playing sports and doing theater -- these activities that warranted a sense of community, a sense of being a part of a team. There’s certainly aspects of that in my music career, but being a solo artist it’s more just me, myself and I. What I love about Kinky Boots more than anything is that it’s a community of artists coming together to tell this story. Also, no two shows are the same. I mean, you’re doing the same show but it always feels very fresh and very different. It’s just exciting.

Was there a performance that stood out to you from your initial run?

I’m a textbook overthinker. In my own shows, I use a teleprompter. I won’t normally use it, but if it’s not there, I’ll freak out and mess up. The first night on Kinky Boots, there’s no teleprompter and I’m standing by the stage before my character’s first big number and I’m thinking ahead -- which is the exact wrong thing to do. The rest of the show was this two-and-a-half-hour-long panic attack. I remember that because it taught me to stay in the moment, stay present. And then the last show, for myriad reasons, was very memorable. I had just started to feel in-pocket with the character and then it was like, "OK, I have to say goodbye now." So I feel very fortunate that I get to return and continue to explore this character.

You have an acoustic tour coming up -- and you can’t get more far away from a Broadway production than that. What's that juxtaposition like for you?

I get what might be a sick thrill out of zigging when people think I’m supposed to zag. I do recognize and acknowledge the dynamic that exists between those two extremes. With a show like Kinky Boots, when you’re working with other artists onstage, if you flub a line the person you’re on stage with will be there for you. I was fortunate enough to be on stage with Wayne Brady [during Cook's initial run] and he couldn’t have been more giving. I remember I messed up a line and he was so great about helping give me the information we needed so the scene could move forward flawlessly. If I flub a line during my acoustic show, it’s going to be super noticeable and there’s really nobody to pick up the slack. It’s a completely different beast. At the same time, with both, you’re operating on a tightrope without a net a little bit. I guess the difference is with live theater there’s other people on the rope with you.

When was the last time you were on stage with so many people? The American Idol tour?

Oh God, it might have been. Yeah, it was probably those damn group numbers. [Laughs]

Speaking of Idol, did you catch the new season on ABC?

I watched some of the preliminary stuff, but the Broadway schedule is so intense, I didn’t get a chance to watch much TV at all. I think they’re coming through New York while I’m out here, so hopefully I’ll get a day off and go see them.

You're kind of trading places with Tyler Glenn from Neon Trees and replaced Jake Shears from Scissor Sisters. Before you stepped in to the role, did Jake give you tips?

Only if I asked, and the things I asked Jake had more to do with navigating the offstage stuff. I hadn’t done theater since high school, so it was like, "What are the areas of the building I’m not allowed to be in? Who am I allowed to talk to? Who do I let talk to me first?" As far as the creative process and finding the character, it’s something we all had to figure out on our own.

Now that you've gotten a taste of Broadway, are there other shows you’d want to step into? 

I saw Hamilton which was incredible, I’ve seen Book of Mormon and loved that, I’ve been a fan of Phantom of the Opera since I was a teenager. I know that Kinky Boots director Jerry Mitchell also has Pretty Woman, hint-hint, nudge-nudge! [Laughs] Ultimately, whatever roles are offered to me and I feel I can bring something to, I’m all for the challenge.