Billy Porter Kicks Up His Kinky Boots, Wearing the Role of a Lifetime

By Harry Haun
07 Apr 2013

Billy Porter in Kinky Boots.
photo by Matthew Murphy
Lola restored his options and his humanity. "She lives out loud, without apology. I strive to be that courageous in my own life, and I succeed half the time, maybe. She's helping me get that percentage a little higher. I think she's very brave."

Why brave? "I'm gay, black and Christian, and I've been out for years and years — all that comes with its own set of issues — but, when you add on top of that 'Oh, I want to put on a dress' — that's something I'd never, in my own life, have the courage to do."

Not that he hasn't scoped out the drag scene in his 22 years of New York gay clubs, and not that he can't quote from "Paris Is Burning," Jennie Livingston's documentary on the New York ball culture of the '80s. "I always said if I played a drag queen, I'd want to create a template with the realness they talk about in "Paris Is Burning."

"Lola is everything that anybody in this business could dream. It's a tour de force. I get to sing Cyndi Lauper music so it's written in the style where I thrive. I am able to sing authentically in the style that's been written while being an actor and acting my way through the lyric at the same time."



Because of (or, maybe, in spite of) his newness and his realness, Porter comes on runway-ready — a contemporary, spectacularly glamorous Lola. "It takes a village," he admits, modestly passing proper credit onto wig designer John Marquette, makeup designer Randy Houston Mercer and, above all, costume (and shoe!) designer Gregg Barnes, who keeps the character constantly nodding to divas past and present.

When the light first finds Lola, smoldering in hot red, she's Beyonce; a short-skirted blue number is meant to be a bow to Mary J. Blige; her Whitney Houston moment is an 11 o'clock number with flowing veils that look like a goddess sacrifice is going on. Ironically, his most shocking outfit — audiences gasp! — is a man's business suit.

Best of all is the way Lola says sex — SAAAAAX, with dragon fire spewing forth. Now, how's that done again, Billy? "It's a combination of all the Pentecostal preachers and gospel singers that I grew up with — plus Liza Minnelli and a bit of Sean Connery."

Check out highlights from Kinky Boots!