Q&A with Billy Porter

Billy Porter wants to inspire. Not only has a won a Tony for his work as Lola in Kinky Boots, he's also a bona-fide recording artist. But what inspires him? Quite a bit, apparently! When we sat down with the charming performer, he was reluctant to tell us some of his favorite things because he likes so much! Somehow, we were able to wrestle some favorite films and musicals out of him, in addition to talking about his love of Barbara Streisand and the message he hopes to deliver to people who listen to his new album.

GGM: So Billy, when we last talked to you on GoGoMix, the Kinky Boots phenomenon was in its infancy. Now it’s won Tonys and Grammys. How’s all the success been treating you?

BP: (laughs) How’s it been treating me? It’s nice! It’s nice to be successful, nice to have a paycheck, nice to be able to pay my bills on time!

GGM: That’s totally fair! Your album, Billy's Back on Broadway, is filled with renditions of inspirational showtunes, like “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” What drew you to this collection of songs?

BP: It’s like, “Make an album, make a Broadway album!” and the canon is so vast. The catalog is so wide and broad, it’s like, where do you start? So for me, as an actor, as a storyteller, it started with the storytelling! What do I want to say? I chose the theme of empowerment, inspiration, hope, encouragement, and once I chose that theme, then the songs emerged and chose themselves.

GGM: I read that when you were a kid, you heard Barbara Streisand’s Broadway album and that planted in you the dream to make a Broadway album of your own. What’s your favorite Barbara performance?

BP: Oof… It’s probably, interestingly enough, not on that Broadway album. There are lots of favorites that I have. I’d have to say… gosh, you’re asking me a question I have to reach back for! “When the Sun Comes Out.” There are so many. But it’s the first one off the top of my head. It’s on one of her specials, My Name is Barbara, and it blows me out of the water every time I see it. Ah, can I do a Top Three?

GGM: Top three is great!

BP: “People,” from the Funny Girl movie. And “My Man.”

GGM: Would you say that Funny Girl is your favorite musical?

BP: No, that’d go to something else. Funny Girl has one of my favorite performances, but it’s not necessarily one of my favorite musicals.

GGM: So what is?

BP: Bahhh, why do you make me make choices like this!

GGM: Give a top three!

BP: I would have to say… Dreamgirls, West Side Story, Gypsy… let’s just say those for now. Into the Woods and Sweeney Todd are up there too. For now, those are what’s coming off the top of my head.

GGM: So between doing the show and working on your album, you must have at least a little downtime. Are there any New York restaurants you enjoy?

BP: Downtime? Whose life are you living (laughs)?! I don’t really get out of the Times Square area, but there are really too many restaurants I frequent for me to give favorites and not say others. It puts me in a very precarious position because if I say one person and not another, I’m gonna get a beatdown! I will say 44 and X.

GGM: Are there any films that have inspired you?

BP: Recently, I’d have to say 12 Years a Slave was quite stunning. Others would be The Color Purple, Schindler’s List. Those would be my top 3 at the moment. As long as you say “at the moment!” I don’t like to be tied down!

GGM: How about TV shows?

BP: Scandal is at the top of my list right now. I’m enjoying The Newsroom a lot, Breaking Bad, old school Six Feet Under, Sex and the City, Will and Grace. I vacillate between the highest of high comedies and the darkest of dramas. I go between extremes like that.

GGM: Is there a showtune that you didn’t record on this album but that you’d want to record in the future?

BP: I’d love to record “Move On,” which is a Sondheim from Sunday in the Park with George. I’d also love to record “A Quiet Thing” from Flora and the Red Menace.

GGM: Last question: we talked about your album before, but what do you hope people take away from your album when they hear it?

BP: I want people to understand the truth that the only thing we can do is be the best version of ourselves. We can’t be anybody else, and the only way to be successful in life is to embrace that.

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