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Brendan Urie
Credit: Matthew Murphy

Brendon Urie is no stranger to the stage. The Panic! At the Disco frontman has been touring for over a decade, ever since his pop-rock band burst onto the music scene with their unforgettable hit, “I Write Sins, Not Tragedies” back in 2006. By now, Urie—who’s the sole original member remaining in the group—has far surpassed his emo-kid roots. And thanks to his powerhouse vocals and witty lyrics, Panic! at the Disco has only gotten better with time. Earlier this year, Urie and co. earned their first-ever Grammy nomination for the band’s fifth studio album, Death of a Bachelor, before embarking on a spring tour that sold out major stadiums like Madison Square Garden.

Urie is back in New York City this summer—but this time around, he’s taking his talents to a very different stage. He makes his Broadway debut in Kinky Boots tonight, starring as Charlie Price, a man who saves his family’s struggling shoe factory when he and his new drag queen friend, Lola, begin designing women’s boots that are strong enough for a man. It’s a perfect role for Urie, who’s as known for his over-the-top fashion choices as he is for belting out a catchy tune. And, needless to say, he’s more than ready to rock those iconic red thigh-highs like a champ on stage.

Earlier this week, we chatted with Urie after getting a sneak peek at his rehearsal for the Tony-winning show. He looked right at home on the stage of the Al Hirschfield Theatre—and for good reason. “Panic! [at the Disco]’s not unfamiliar with theaters, and we always wanted to build a production not unlike Broadway,” Urie told InStyle. “That’s why we chose to play theaters for a long time, because we liked to be more theatrical and to transform a venue into our own world. When people left, we wanted them to be like, ‘Where did I just come from? That was crazy.’”

Brendan Urie
Credit: Kevin Kane/WireImage

While he may feel comfortable putting on a show, starring in a musical is nothing like concert life. “Broadway is so different in terms of performance,” said Urie. “At a Panic show, most of the fans are so loud and singing along with you above the PA [system]. There are moments when I love to let them have it for a couple seconds. But with this, I’m just naked up there. I can’t let anyone take over. So I’m just like, ‘OK! Hopefully this works out!’ But it’s really awesome.” Check out our full chat with Urie below, and catch him in Kinky Boots now through August 6.

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You’re used to performing your own songs. How does it feel to be singing music written by Kinky Boots’ composer, Cyndi Lauper?
It’s the coolest thing ever. I got to meet her yesterday for the first time. We had only sent one email back and forth before that, just both of us saying, “Hey, excited to meet you.” And hanging out with her yesterday just reaffirmed my passion for this play. We nerded out about music; we talked about the play. She was like, “I think you’re gonna be great. Don’t even worry about it, you’re awesome.” She was so sweet, and we had the best time ever. It’s fun to sing her stuff. So far in rehearsals, I love being in a world where instead of singing my own music, I’m translating a character’s take on this music. It’s so different for me, and it’s amazing.

Your own music is known for promoting LGBTQ equality, with lyrics like “Love is not a choice” on the anthem “Girls/Girls/Boys.” Similarly, Kinky Boots is all about acceptance and embraces the message of being true to yourself. Was that something that drew you to join this production, as opposed to another Broadway show?
Yeah, I mean, that’s a very prevalent part of it. But honestly, what made me want to be a part of the play was when I first saw it, I was looking around like, “I love this—but I wonder how some of these people from the Midwest and smaller towns feel, having never seen drag or a guy in heels?” We were sitting next to an older couple in their mid-60s, and it’s fair to say that the gentleman was uncomfortable for the first act. But he obviously loved his wife and came for her. When the second act came in, he started to warm up a little bit, following Don’s character. I love that mirroring you do when you connect with a character onstage, and I think that saves a lot of people. It introduces them to this world of acceptance and love and equality, which is beautiful. By the end, he was the first one who stood up screaming, and I was like, this is what I want to do. I want to change people for the better. I want to change their attitudes toward people that are different. So I think it’s a beautiful idea, absolutely.

In Panic! at the Disco’s song “Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time,” you sing about how you “lost a bet to a guy in a chiffon skirt” but you “make these high heels work.” Now you’re back in platforms for Kinky Boots. What’s your own personal history with wearing heels?
Yes, I did—notoriously! I have worn heels before, and I enjoyed them. I think I was probably 9 years old the first time I wore them. I’m the youngest of five kids, and my siblings and I had something called the “Dress-Up Box.” We made a lot of home movies and always acted and made plays and stuff. For whatever reason, they loved me in drag, and a lot of the time they would put me in a cheerleading outfit or a dress and heels, so I was very accustomed to it.

In my young adulthood, I was hanging out with a guy in drag at a bar in L.A.—that’s what I wrote the song about. We were having a good time—shots, beers, chatting it up, singing songs to people and just pissing them off. Then we started making bets to each other. For the one that I initiated, I was like, “I bet I could fit more hot dogs in my mouth than you could. I’ve got a huge mouth, so I’d absolutely crush that.” But he kicked my ass at that. I wanted to redeem myself, so then I bet that I could chug a beer faster. He f—g crushed me at that. So I ended up having to wear the heels. He told me that I didn’t have to stand in them, but I was like, “I’ve got this.” I was walking around the bar having a good time—I was also lit up by then. When I woke up, I understood just even a fraction of the plight that girls go through wearing heels.

Do you agree with the classic Kinky Boots lyric that the “Sex Is in The Heel?”
I do! I feel it when I put on those big-ass boots. They perk my butt up. It’s very sexy.

When you’re getting your makeup done to hit the stage for the show, does it bring you back to guy-liner days?
[Laughs]. No! Nothing was like the guy-liner stage. We spent a lot of time drawing weird Tim Burton-esque stuff on our faces, and I dressed myself up as a ventriloquist puppet. But this is very unlike anything else. Watching the Angels and Jay, as Lola, get their makeup done is especially wild. There’s a lot that goes into it and just…respect. They do a lot.

Do you have any pre-show rituals that you’re planning to continue?
With Panic!, we would always high-five before going on stage. And we would do a double shot of tequila. I hope to keep both of those—we’ll see what happens. I haven’t figured it out yet. Actually, [the Kinky Boots cast does] have a thing that they do—but I don’t know if I’m qualified to divulge that information. It’s very sexy. Just kidding.

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Credit: Walter McBride/Getty

What’s your favorite pair of boots at the moment?
I think it’s the ones I have now. I stopped wearing boots for a while until I put on these heels. It’s weird how comfortable they are—honestly, it’s even weirder how comfortable I am in them. They’re pretty great. When I first put them on for a photo shoot, they told me I could take them off at the end but I said no. I walked through the whole theater—I went upstairs, downstairs, through the basement. People kept saying, “You’re not in the play tonight. What are you doing? You don’t have to wear those.” But I liked it. I’m comfortable in them—of course, Charlie is supposed to be uncomfortable in them, so I have to learn that again.

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Credit: Matthew Murphy