THERE are any number of challenges involved in bringing a cult movie to life on stage but for Peter Caulfield, star of To Wong Foo the Musical which has its world premiere in Manchester, it’s the seven-inch heels which have been the biggest.

“All I can say is huge respect to all the women out there,” he laughed. “I’ve had to wear my heels every day just to strengthen my ankles and my calves. I hadn’t appreciated how much they would change every aspect of the role – the posture, the way you walk, the way you move. Those heels influence the performance from the ground up.”

Peter, who TV viewers may recognise for playing a loan shark in Eastenders, stars as Vida one of three drag queens on their way to a national pageant who become stranded in a town in middle America.

Lancashire Telegraph: Pablo Gómez Jones as Chi-Chi and Peter Caulfield as Vida in rehearsal for To Wong Foo the Musical (Picture: Pamela Raith)

To Wong Foo the Musical is based on the 1995 film To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar. In the film, Vida was played by Patrick Swayze.

“He was brilliant in the film but he played Vida as being quite soft,” said Peter.

“I see her as having a harder edge. She’s from a privileged background and has chosen this way of life. She has a certain air of entitlement about her and can be quite cutting at time.

“She’s built this thick veneer to protect herself but when she gets to this red neck town she’s surprised at how touched she is by the community.”

The musical is being directed by Douglas Carter Beane who wrote the original film.

“He always intended it to be a stage production and his roots are very much in theatre,” said Peter. “To have him in the room with us directing is just brilliant. He’s got the whole show so vividly in his head. We are just bringing it to life.”

Although almost 30 years old, the storyline remains particularly relevant today, a fact not lost on the cast.

“Certainly things have improved regarding the way drag is perceived in many areas,” said Peter. “With TV and theatre it is everywhere. But at the same time in America they are trying to shut down drag culture.

“Then when you look around the world in certain countries gay couples are not allowed to adopt; there have been attacks on the trans community which are very reminiscent of what was happening to the gay community in the Eighties.

“The show is about individuality and embracing who you are. It’s a real celebration of individuality At a time when minority groups are being attacked it’s the perfect time to celebrate that.

Lancashire Telegraph: Pablo Gómez Jones, Gregory Hanry and Peter Caulfield with director Douglas Carter Beane (Picture: Pamela Raith)

“I think the message is that no matter how different you are or what your backgrounds are you can still find common ground. These three drag queens end up in a red neck town in middle America. Obviously they have very different views of world and very different experiences of the world but it doesn’t mean they can’t find some connection and even love; that’s really what it’s about. You can find love anywhere; it doesn’t matter where you are from. We’re all human at the end of the day.”

Vida, Peter says, is an ‘old fashioned’ drag queen.

“She’s into pageants and is all about the glamour. She’s an old school diva. She’s influenced by 1950s Hollywood glamour - I see her very much as Marilyn Monroe meets Jessica Rabbit. All my gowns are based on vintage Dior from 40s and 50s so it’s going to look very glamorous. I feel very sexy actually. They have given me this big bust and hips, it’s a new experience but I’m embracing it.

“I don’t think I have ever done anything that’s as far removed from myself as this but I’m loving the challenge. I just hope I don’t fall flat on my back like I have done a couple of times in rehearsal. It’s those heels!”

To Wong Foo, Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester, until December 17. Details from