PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Kinky Boots' Billy Porter on the Cast Albums That Changed His Life and Words for His Younger Self

By Adam Hetrick
03 Aug 2013

Porter accepts his Tony.
CBS

What was your A Chorus Line memory? It's difficult to get the full scope of A Chorus Line just from the album because there's so much to it.

BP: I was really lucky because I believe saw the first regional theatre production of A Chorus Line, which was at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. I want to say Lenora Nemetz was Cassie, Kathleen Marshall was Val and Rob Ashford was Paul! And I didn't know anything about A Chorus Line, and I went to see it and was like, "Oh My God!" I think the thing that I was relating to in these stories was the search for truth inside of one's art, which for me growing up in the Pentecostal church – it was a big deal that I wanted to be something that deviated from the life that I was supposed to be living. I think there was something in Dreamgirls, something in The Wiz – that search for your own truth, your own identity – even in Gypsy, your search for your own identity – Sunday In The Park with George - the search for the the art of it. Where do you find that? And how, if ever, are you satisfied with that journey?

Who was your first Mama Rose?



BP: Around my time it was Tyne Daly, but then I went back and pulled out all the other ones. [Laughs.]

You've spoken before about struggling to secure your place in show business as an actor. This year you're having such a huge success with Kinky Boots. Coming off the reviews and the Tony Award, is it difficult to stay present once the dream becomes real?

BP: I try to force myself to be present enough to experience it and feel it. Because the work is so constant, sometimes you can get in a place where you don't pay attention. And this time around I was really paying attention, and it was fascinating to go through this whole thing being in a hit show, and watching the response, and watching people learn about the show, and grow with us. It's been an amazing experience, it really really has.

At the end of Kinky Boots Charlie and Lola have a moment to reconnect with their younger selves. I found it so moving. What would you say to that kid checking out cast albums in the Pittsburgh library if you could?

BP: If I could look back at my younger self, I would tell him that while the journey that you will have to take is going to be bumpy at times, just know that when you get to the other side, it's glorious. Because when you can truly live in the fullness and the truth of who you are, there's no better life. And sometimes that's hard to feel. I always say, "It's easy to be who you are when who you are is what's popular." I wasn't popular for a really long time. Being black and gay and Christian is not a popular thing. It's becoming more popular I suppose... With as difficult and challenging as the journey has been, I wouldn't change it for the world.

(Adam Hetrick is the editor in chief of Playbill.com. His work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com, as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillAdamH).