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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Broadway star Billy Porter will perform Wednesday at Embassy Theatre’s Marquee Gala fundraiser.

Thursday, March 23, 2017 10:02 pm

Star loves 'intimate' setting

Corey McMaken | The Journal Gazette

Billy Porter likes to connect with his audience, so the up-close-and-personal performance next week at Embassy Theatre will be perfect for him.

The Broadway star will perform Wednesday night at the Embassy’s Marquee Gala. Guests at the fundraiser will eat dinner from restaurants including The Golden, Club Soda and The Hoppy Gnome. They will then be escorted from the ballroom along a behind-the-scenes path to their seats on the stage for Porter’s show.

"I love intimate," he says. "I’m very much a person that likes to look into your eyes and connect in that sort of way, so I look forward to that."

Porter won a Tony in 2013 for his role as Lola in "Kinky Boots." The musical also won him a Grammy in 2014. His fourth album, "Billy Porter Presents: The Soul of Richard Rodgers," will be released April 14. 

Porter spoke with The Journal Gazette by phone from Boston where he is directing a production of "Topdog/Underdog" at Huntington Theatre.

The conversation has been edited.

What will you be performing at the Embassy?

It’s a combination of my body of work, which is centered around the concept of Broadway soul, the concept of the classic to the contemporary. I was trained very classically, but I grew up in a contemporary time, and I like to meld those things together.

So it’s going to be that stuff from all of my albums, essentially, but the main focus is on the recent one, "Billy Porter Presents: The Soul of Richard Rodgers."

Can you tell me a little bit about the new album?

It’s a deconstruction of something classic, which is Richard Rodgers, and moving that into a contemporary voice. (Rodgers was an American composer for more than 40 Broadway musicals.)

The album features a bunch of guest artists. I call them the new Broadway superstars, the new guard. Leslie Odom Jr., Renee Elise Goldsberry, Christopher Jackson, Cynthia Erivo, Deborah Cox, India.Arie, Todrick Hall, Pentatonix – it’s a bunch of really fresh, interesting voices who have come in and are takin’ over!

I looked at the track list for it, and it really seems like a nice mix of folks.

Yeah, it’s a beautiful, beautiful album. I’m really proud of it. If I may say so myself!

Is there a goal that you’re still working toward, or are you satisfied with what you’re doing now?

World domination is my goal. (laughs)

I’m a creative person. I like to make sure that I’m stretching myself to the limit of what I can do and what I can be.

I do a lot of things, because the unfortunate part about the business is that you really can be boxed; it really can feel suffocating if you don’t pursue the truth of who you want to be and the work that you want to put out into the world. So I write, I direct and I do all of these other things because the voice I have is very specific, and I want to make sure that voice is heard.

What I’ve learned in the business is if you have that sort of voice, you have to speak from it and do it yourself.

Of the things that you’ve done and roles that you’ve played, do you have a favorite?

The favorite has to be the thing that you’re doing at the moment because that’s the only way you can respect the project. If I’m doing one thing and my favorite thing was something else, then this is not really getting my full attention.

The most significant roles for me have been "Angels in America" (which he appeared in off-Broadway in 2010), and, of course, "Kinky Boots."

"Angels in America" was the play that I saw that kind of changed my perspective and intention as an artist, shifting it from desiring to be a superstar to desiring to put the right kind of energy out into the world through my work.

And then "Kinky Boots," (which he appeared in as Lola from 2013 to 2015) being representative of an archetype that didn’t exist when I came up – the black, gay, out character that happens to be a drag queen was not a possibility for me.

Do you think there’s anything out there that is sort of "the next Lola," the next barrier that needs to be addressed?

Well, I have written a play recently that has been in development at The Public Theater in New York, that I feel is next for me. It’s about my generation of gay men: African-American boys who came out in the ’80s.

I came out in the ’80s, and I went straight to the front lines for my life, because we were dying. Those of us who have survived, 30 years later, we have PTSD. We know how to fight, but we don’t know how to live, and the people that were supposed to teach us to do that died. So it’s that generation that we’re not talking about that I am trying to address in this next piece. I’m very excited about that.

They’re all black and brown people, and we’re just scratching the surface of that conversation because my people don’t like to talk about that. Black folks like to act like gay people don’t exist.

So we’re having that conversation, even in the light of "Moonlight" winning the Oscar. That was about the struggle to accept your sexuality, whereas what I’m interested in isn’t the struggle to accept that I’m gay, it’s about what happens after that.

We don’t have a problem with being gay, the issue is how do we live? How do we live in this world in our truth?

cmcmaken@jg.net