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spotlight billy porter


Billy Porter Presents: The Soul of Richard Rodgers features the voices of: Deborah Cox, Brandon Victor Dixon, Cynthia Erivo Todrick Hall, Pentatonix and India.Arie to name just a few. It’s available online and in stores now.


Billy Porterwill be in Los Angeles at the Grammy Museum onMonday, May 15. For tickets and more information, go togram- mymuseum.org/events/detail/billy-porter.


done it with an all-black cast and when the Richard Rodgers idea came up, she said, “Richard Rodgers needs that same treatment, just put a concert together and let’s see how it goes.” Because most people on the planet know a Rich-


agree with as far as subject matter. That’s the unique position an artist can occupy. Absolutely. And you know what I have… I have


Kinky Boots. All these older white, rich, conserva- tive people, they just love Miss Lola and her kinky boots. (Laughs) I come right out and stand there in those boots and a blazer, with my ruffled shirt and sing “Carefully Taught” and “Wash That Man” and say, “Now we’re going to talk about this. Because, whatever affiliation you might have, I think it’s safe to say that what’s going on right now is not a good thing for anybody.” Let me tell you, I get applause every time. We just need to be sure that we’re engaging with those who need to hear the stories. I just want my work to reflect that kind of thing. I


had a change in my life when I was about 24 years old and sawAngels In America. Prior to that, I just wanted to be a star and through the power of theatre, it changed me. Theatre saved my life and took me out of an awful, traumatic childhood. I was very loved, but it was very traumatic in many ways: Being a black, gay kid in the Pentecostal Church


36 RAGE monthly | MAY 2017 RAGE monthly


and in the black, homophobic ghetto. I was watching Oprah and Mya Angelou one day


and they were like, “Service, how can your life be of service?” So, that’s what I put on my mirror. How can I use the gifts that God has given me to be of service to something other than my ego and my bank account…Particularly in an industry that is inherently narcissistic. This album has an amazing appeal, not only because of the material and songs you’ve chosen, but also because of the people that you collabo- rated with. I’m really interested to know whether you chose the material first and then match the artist to it or was it vice versa? I was commission to do a concert in Los Angeles


back in 2009 by Reprieve Theatre Company. They were doing a Richard Rodgers season and my patron in the arts, Suzie B. and her husband, Lenny B., the music guy who ultimately gave me the record deal to do this album. Suzie wanted me to do a concert and commissioned it for me, to springboard it off what I had done as a theatrical, live review of Stephen Sondheim’s music. We’d


ard Rodgers song, even if they don’t know who he is, they know the music, so the deconstruction of it resonated more profoundly. So, when you hear “My Funny Valentine,” even the way that we do it, you comprehend what’s happening. You understand what has been done because it’s so familiar. Do you get the sense in your work, that there is a coming together around contemporary culture and classic theatre? A resurgence because of things likeKinky Boots, Hamilton and other new productions, which has its roots in classic, musical theatre. Yes. I’m excited about it, but it can’t be 20 years, between each time it comes along and I think we as artists must get out in front of it. We need to tell our stories in the authentic voices they need to be told in: Voices like on the album, voices like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. We must continue to create and not wait for the genre and the people who are the gatekeepers of it, to give us permission to do it. We must become our own gatekeepers. The idea that we can have conversations about music, theatre and the arts, but we also need to discuss the deeper things like we’ve been talking about. I think that the two are intertwined. When the intention is clear, the two can’t be broken off from each other, because they are one in the same. Absolutely. The music fromKinky Boots is an example of them being intertwined. On its surface, it’s about drag and all the glitz wrapped up in that. If you dig just a little deeper into the story and the lyrics, there are powerful tropes around familial relationships and acceptance. The music from your album has the same quality, the music and message has always been there, but you’ve broken it down and shifted it. Thank you. I appreciate that. It really was all we


were trying to do…The classic to the contemporary. My brand has always been Broadway and soul, the classic to the contemporary. I’m that guy and I’ve spent my whole life doing it and I’ve always done it. The difference now is that I have a Tony and a Grammy and people are listening, (Laughs) They’re paying a bit more attention.


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