by Nicole Barley | Photographs from WireImage + EPK Link
Everybody say, “Yeah!” Pittsburgh performing great Billy Porter is the proud owner of a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, an honor he earned for his simultaneously emotional and ecstatic performance in the Broadway show, Kinky Boots.
Playing Lola, a drag queen in need of some sexy, supportive footwear, Porter portrays a character in search of healing — and heels. Porter’s triple-threat educational background, which includes time at Mt. Lebanon’s Center for Theater Arts, Pittsburgh School for the Creative and Performing Arts, and Carnegie Mellon University’s “second to none” School of Drama, helped prepare him for what one might call the role of a lifetime — so far, anyway. “ I don’t want to limit the fact that there could be other things that come as well. But, in terms of opportunity, success is when opportunity meets preparedness, and I’ve been preparing myself for this for 43 years. It’s an amazing, amazing part.”
Porter’s lifelong friend Billy Hartung, executive director of Center for Theater Arts, lauds the actor’s amazing talent and devotion to his dreams. “As an artist, I have the utmost respect for his process, his standards, and his commitment to the craft of acting, and also the roller coaster profession that is show business. In addition to his success, Billy has both wings to soar, and roots to ground him — I find that to be incredibly exciting!” says Hartung.
After a 13-year hiatus from a Broadway stage, Porter’s path led him to the part, which has proven to be more than award winning — it’s also presented him with work that speaks to his heart. “I took a break from performing because my career was not going in the direction that I wanted it to go in,” he says. “I took a step back, and one of the things I realized was I wanted to do work that was meaningful, and being black and gay and Christian in America, there’s a lot to say, and there’s a lot to talk about, and I think that’s what’s special about the show. This character represents something a little bit greater than just being a drag queen. She’s a human being, and she has a story, and she has a heart. It’s great to be part of something that can simultaneously be entertaining and also have a message at the same time.”
The score by Cyndi Lauper and book by Harvey Fierstein indeed present a show filled with feeling and fun — if those red, thigh-high sequins boots that play a prominent role on stage are any indication. And, check Porter’s Twitter account, @theebillyporter, to witness a photo of his between-show ritual born of wearing those very kinky kicks: soaking his feet in a giant tub of crushed ice.
During our chat, just a few days fresh off his victory, I wondered how he would be celebrating. “Going to work! That’s how one celebrates in the theater,” Porter said with a laugh. “It’s very different from an Oscar. You know, the movie is in the can, so you don’t have to go to work. I still have to do eight shows a week. I’m happy to have a job, and I’m celebrating doing that!”
The mark of a true performer. Bravo!
Kinky Boots, kinkybootsthemusical.com.
This installment of One Last WHIRL is featured in the July 2013 issue of WHIRL Magazine.