The journey that led electric bassist Kellie Nitz to the national touring company of “Kinky Boots” started in Rapid City’s school music program.

Nitz is part of the touring company’s nine-piece band that will be in Rapid City on March 16 and 17 for two performances of the hit musical “Kinky Boots.” Nitz has been part of the tour since 2017, playing for more than 300 performances.

Nitz credits the music education and performance opportunities she had in Rapid City for steering her toward a musical career. She and her family moved to Rapid City when she was in third grade. Nitz started in the fourth grade orchestra program at Meadowbrook Elementary School and continued her music education through high school. She graduated in 1999 from Rapid City Stevens High School.

“I started playing upright bass with Bill Evans, the orchestra teacher. In sixth grade, I got an electric bass to play in jazz band. I studied with Bruce Knowles in high school,” Nitz said. “I was very fortunate to grow up with such a great program. It has really influenced who and where I am today.”

While in high school, Nitz placed in the finals in the Young Artists Solo Competition, performed with the Black Hills Symphony Orchestra and attended the Black Hills String Retreat. She also performed with the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra. Nitz earned a bachelor’s degree in music performance from the University of Minnesota and now lives in Minneapolis.

Nitz performed with community theaters and bands in Minneapolis before joining the national touring company of “Mamma Mia” in 2017. When that tour ended, she auditioned to be in the band for “Kinky Boots.” The band and cast usually travel by bus around the nation, and if there’s time, they explore communities where the tour stops. Scenic Burlington, Vt., and “cute, quirky” Eugene, Ore., are among her favorites, Nitz said, as is New Orleans. The “Kinky Boots” tour will conclude there in June.

Playing the same music so many times hasn’t lost its luster, Nitz said, because of the people she tours with, the vibrance of the “Kinky Boots” production and, above all, its message.

Inspired by true events, the story begins in a struggling gentleman’s shoe factory in England. The owner’s life and fortunes are changed when he meets Lola, a drag queen in need of sturdy new stilettos. “Kinky Boots” celebrates unusual shoes, friendships and the belief that you can change the world when you change your mind.

“Be who you want to be is what sticks with me. … The show has such a positive message about accepting others and accepting yourself and being proud of who you are,” Nitz said. “The show is high energy. The costumes, the big finale and the Act 1 ending dance sequence are really spectacular. There’s a lot of fun and energy to this show.”

Grammy- and Tony-award winning music icon Cyndi Lauper wrote the score. “It’s a pop-rock musical,” Nitz said.

Learning the music and then playing it with various musicians who cycle in and out of the tour keeps her job interesting. Musicians from all over the nation compose the band of keyboards, guitars, bass, drums, violin, viola and trumpet.

“Maybe two-thirds of the band is different this year from last year, so how people interpret the music changes. It’s a collaboration, and that’s what makes playing musicals so much fun,” Nitz said. “Knowing how the music supports everything on stage makes it a rewarding job, for sure.”

Audiences have loved "Kinky Boots," she said.

“It’s fun to watch their faces react to certain reveals on stage and listen to them respond. … Part of the joy of doing this six days a week, eight shows a week is the audience, to bring them the joy of the message of acceptance. It has really affected a lot of people. It’s made a good impact wherever we go,” Nitz said.

Performing with national touring companies is an unexpected career, Nitz said, but it’s given her a love for musical theater.

“Musical theater shows have such variety in them. … I have definitely found musical theater to be my favorite kind of performance art,” she said.

“If there’s another opportunity for another show, I’ll wait and see,” Nitz said. “It’s an unknown profession. You don’t really know how you’re going to be making your mortgage payment, but I’m in a good place professionally.”

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