Billy Porter: The gay interview

BillyPorter1

With our Applause Edition coming out Friday, we thought we’d prime the pump a little with some Broadway glamour. And you don’t get much more glamorous nowadays that the sexy leather thigh-highs of Kinky Boots, which will be on tour in North Texas twice in 2015 (as you can read about Friday in Applause!).

For his first solo album since becoming a Tony and Grammy award-winner, Billy Porter — Broadway’s kinkiest drag queen — is taking off the corset and stepping out of those iconic heels. With Billy’s Back on Broadway, the crooner continues to honor his passion for musical theater, taking on songs made popular by some of the most revered legends: Liza Minnelli (“But the World Goes ’Round”), Judy Garland (“Happy Days Are Here Again / Get Happy”) and Barbra Streisand (“Don’t Rain On My Parade”).

With the Tony Award nominations just out this week, we decided to chat with last year’s toast of B’way. Porter talks with our Chris Azzopardi about his fondness for strong women, how he aspires to be Cyndi Lauper (whom he calls “one of the godmothers of individuality”) and the personal catharsis he’s experienced while transforming into a woman for Kinky Boots.

Dallas Voice: Was winning the Tony for best actor in a musical last year one of those surreal moments where you give your speech, and then walk away and it all becomes a haze and you wonder what the hell you just said?  Billy Porter: No — because I wrote it! I had to write it down. I have amazing people and friends, and my manager of 23 years, Bill Butler, and one of my dear friends Jordan Thaler, both said to me before it happened, “Look, you have a one in five chance of winning. Write something down. Write it down!” And they know I’m not the kind of person who wants to come across as being cocky or anything, so they both were like, “It’s not being cocky; it’s honoring the moment. It’s better to be prepared and to be able to look back at this time and, if it happens, have had said something intelligent.” I said what I wanted to say as opposed to getting up there and fooling around, so I’m glad that they made me write it.

You’re right, though: Some people think it comes off as cocky when people prepare a speech.  And it’s actually really not. Lemme write something down so I don’t look like Boo Boo the Clown up there.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Tony Awards are, once again, very gay

NPH performingPlano native Brian J. Smith was the unfortunate runner-up to three-time winner Mark Rylance at the Tony Awards last night, but our disappointment is lessened slightly by some noteworthy victories.

Six plays and six musicals split the 15 awards handed out Sunday night, which failed to see a clear favorite: Two shows won four awards apiece, and two won three.

Rylance took the first award of the evening, for best featured actor in a play, for Twelfth Night, defeating Smith in The Glass MenagerieMenagerie won only one award, for lighting of a play; Twelfth Night also won for best costume design of a play. Robert Schenkkan’s All the Way, a one-man show with Bryan Cranston playing Texan LBJ, won best play and best actor in a play.

Audra McDonald made history, winning her sixth acting Tony (she now has one in every female acting category, this time for lead actress in a play) playing Billie Holliday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.

The big winner for plays, though, was A Raisin in the Sun, which won revival of a play, director of a play (Kenny Leon) and featured actress in a play (Sophie Okonedo).

Gay fave Neil Patrick Harris, pictured, was a popular favorite when he won for best actor in a musical for his turn in the cross-dressing rock opera Hedwig and the Angry InchHedwig won three other awards: best featured actress for Lena Hall, best lighting of a musical and best revival of a musical.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, the standout hit of the season, took the prizes for best musical, book of a musical, director of a musical and costumes for a musical. Beautiful, the musical based on the life of songwriter Carole King, won best actress in a musical (Jessie Mueller), best sound and set design for a musical. The score award went to The Bridges of Madison County, which also won for best orchestrations.

The show clocked in at just more than three hours, with Hugh Jackman as host. Many of the technical awards were presented off-camera and only announced during the broadcast, and there was no “in memoriam” for those theater folks who have died. There was, however, time for a performance of a musical about Peter Pan, Finding Neverland, which has not opened and has not even booked an opening date yet.

Additional winners:

Featured actor in a musical: James Monroe Iglehart, Aladdin

Choreography: After Midnight

Set design of a play: Act One.

Sound design of a play: Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Cyndi Lauper, who’ll be at HOB on Wed., talks ‘Kinky Boots,’ gay rights

Cyndi2Even before this year’s Tonys, the legendary Cyndi Lauper was already considered a champion: A champion of the Grammys. A champion of the pop charts. A champion of gay rights.

But as a teary-eyed Lauper accepted her Tony statuette for composing the music for the smash Kinky Boots (it also was named best musical of the year, and four other Tonys), the coming-of-age sensation about a drag queen and a shoemaker as unlikely business partners, she was recognized for something she had never been before: The girl who just wanted to have fun, with her apple-red hair and heavy Queens accent, is now a champion of Broadway.

Between gigs on her She’s So Unusual Tour, which opens at the House of Blues in Dallas on Wednesday, Lauper gave our Chris Azzopardi a ring recently to chat about her emotional night at the awards ceremony, freaking out rock stars with her “wildly nutty” persona and the reason she’s always stood up for her gay fans. Read the full interview below.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Tony noms are, as always, super-gay

Kinky Boots

When it comes to the Oscars and the Emmys, gay folks often latch onto minor categories to get our queer fix: Jim Parsons and Neil Patrick Harris and Jane Lynch for TV, more obscure categories like documentary short and adapted screenplay for the movies having the gay nominees; when a movie like Brokeback Mountain gets nominated a lot, we salivate.

One needn’t look nearly so hard with the Tony Awards, however. The announcement this morning of the nominees in theater is fairly flush with gay-interest candidates. (Heck, even Jesse Tyler Ferguson announced the nominees with the queens’ favorite Sutton Foster.)

The big vote-getter was Kinky Boots, pictured, with 13 nominations, including for it gay author (Harvey Fierstein), gay director/choreographer (Jerry Mitchell) and gay star (Billy Porter, who is up against Dallas native Stark Sands). Porter and Sands will compete against Bertie Carvel as a cross-dressing headmistress in the hit transplant from London, Matilda The Musical. (Adored gay rights activist Cyndi Lauper is also nominated for her score for Kinky Boots.)

Douglas Carter Beane, who re-wrote the script for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, was nominated for book of a musical against Fierstein, though Bring It On‘s gay scribe, Jeff Whitty, was unfairly overlooked for his clever script. The show itself, however, is up for best musical and best choreography (well deserved) for out director/choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler.

In the play category, two of the authors of best play nominees (Richard Greenberg and Christopher Durang) will be up against each other for The Assembled Parties and Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, respectively. And on Broadway, even the actors are proudly out: Nathan Lane (The Nance) and David Hyde Pierce (Vanya and…) are both up for best leading actor in a play.

Some gay faves are also in the running, including Stephanie J. Block (her first nomination!) for The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Judith Light for The Assembled Parties and the Rum Tum Tugger himself, Terrence Mann, in Pippin. And Holland Taylor snapped up a best actress nod playing Texas legend Ann Richards in her tour de force show Ann.

Of course, not everyone we wanted got nominated. Bette Midler was overlooked for best actress playing hard-driving Hollywood agent Sue Mengers in I’ll Eat You Last from gay writer John Logan. Well, we do need something to bitch about …

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

The Tonys, as always, are super-gay

The Tony Awards are hands-down the gayest of the major awards shows, from host Neil Patrick Harris (who called it “50 Shades of Gay”) to presenters and performers like Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ricky Martin and Raul Esparza … hell, even the nominees (Cynthia Nixon, writer Joe DiPietro) and winners (Newsies lyricist Jack Feldman, Death of a Salesman producer Scott Rudin) are gay, or gay-adjacent (Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, Judith Light). And with Hugh Jackman presented a special award by his wife (in terrible shoes) and the Judas from Jesus Christ Superstar clad in crotch-hugging iridescent pants and Dallas’ own Cedric Neal clearly featured in best revival of a musical winner Porgy & Bess … well, it was a queerly delicious evening.

It was even better from the seats in the Winspear Opera House, where ATTPAC hosted a free Tony-watching party, marred only by co-host Sandie Newton’s ghastly banter (she cooed over how pretty Bernadette Peters looked, then sniped at John Larroquette as looking old while taking the cop-out “it’s a four-way tie!” approach to the costume contestants, when the team from Evita clearly won).

The big winner was the musical Once, with eight awards, and the play Peter and the Starcatcher with five. Only one of the four musical nominees was not based on movie; sigh.

Here are the winners:

MUSICALS

Musical — Once

Revival — Porgy and Bess

Director — John Tiffany, Once

Actor — Steve Kazee, Once

Actress — Audra McDonald, Porgy and Bess

Featured Actor — Michael McGrath, Nice Work If You Can Get It

Featured Actress — Judy Kaye, Nice Work If You Can Get It

Lighting Design — Once

Set Design — Once

Costume Design — Follies

Sound Design — Once

Score — Newsies

Book — Once

Orchestrations — Once

PLAYS

Play — Clybourne Park

Revival — Death of a Salesman

Director — Death of a Salesman

Actor — James Carden, One Man, Two Guvnors

Actress — Nina Arianda, Venus in Fur

Featured Actor — Christian Borle, Peter and the Starcatcher

Featured Actress — Judith Light, Other Desert Cities

Lighting Design — Peter and the Starcatcher

Set Design — Peter and the Starcatcher

Costume Design — Peter and the Starcatcher

Sound Design — Peter and the Starcatcher

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Dallas connections to the 2012 Tony noms

The 2012 Tony Award nominations came out this morning, with the new musical Once (based on the Irish film) getting the most nominations (11). But actually a couple of other productions are even more interesting to Dallas audiences.

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, which features Dallas actor Cedric Neal, received 10 noms, including best revival of a musical. And Lysistrata Jones, which began as a world premiere at the Dallas Theater Center (under the name Give It Up) received a nom for best book of a musical for Douglas Carter Beane. He’ll go up against fellow gay writer Joe DiPietro for Nice Work If You Can Get It. Unfortunately, Liz Mikel, who wowed Dallas and New York audiences, was not singled out for her performance.

This is the Tonys, so gay nominees abound. The revival of Sondheim’s Follies scored a number of nominations (including, for my money, likely winner Jan Maxwell). Gay playwright Jon Robin Baitz got a nod for best play for Other Desert Cities. Gore Vidal’s The Best Man (with a gay twist) was nominated for best revival of a play as well as best actor James Earl Jones; he’ll face against John Lithgow, who was nominated for another gay play, The Columnist (which also features former Dallasite Brian J. Smith as Lithgow’s  six-pack-ab’d trick). Lesbian actress Cynthia Nixon is up for her performance in Wit.

Jeff Calhoun, whom I interviewed last year, is nominated for best director of a musical for Newsies. Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark got only two design nominations, though ironically, the new movie Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield, was nominated for best featured actor in a play for Death of a Salesman.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Whitty banter

Gay ‘Ave. Q’ scribe Jeff Whitty builds a pyramid of laughs in cheer-full musical ‘Bring It On’

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CHEER UP | Whitty swore off writing musicals — but changed his mind to take on two new ones.

Jeff Whitty will probably spend the rest of his life living down the legacy of creating the musical that turned Muppets … sorry, puppets — into sexed-up losers. Avenue Q became the surprise hit of the 2003-04 Broadway season, sweeping the Tony Awards (including one for Whitty’s book) and forever changing our view of Sesame Street.

One of Whitty’s collaborators on Q went on to co-write The Book of Mormon, but Whitty himself has been busy as well, opening two musicals in the past 13 months, including the cheerleading comedy Bring It On: The Musical, which opened this week at Fair Park.

The gay librettist, who is also an actor (he’s in rehearsals to appear in a play he wrote, in which he’ll star in drag — a first) chatted about his love of cheerleading, his failed promise never to do another musical and the filthiest show he’s ever seen.

Arnold Wayne Jones

Dallas Voice: Here’s something the librettist never hears: My favorite thing about Avenue Q is not actually on the cast recording, it’s the name of a character, Miss Thistletwat.  Jeff Whitty: Thank you. I was in Paris with one of the [French] producers and we had this great lunch with champagne at 1 in the afternoon and everything. I asked her, “How did you translate the name of Miss Thistletwat?” She got really embarrassed, but she told me; it would translate as, like, Miss Grassmuncher, which [is slang there] for lesbian.

I also love when Kate fingers Princeton. That’s the audience’s fault — they are putting that in, I don’t actually say it. There are actually only 13 swear words in Avenue Q, and they are carefully placed — like five “fucks”, one “pussy” and four “shits” …. By the way, I’ve seen four international productions of Avenue Q and Paris was the filthiest. Kate rimmed Princeton. Even to me, that’s a little much.

Since last year, you’ve opened two other musicals: Tales of the City and Bring It On, which is now in Dallas. I didn’t want to do another musical after Avenue Q after learning how hard they are. I said no to everything for quite a while. Then on a plane to London [while watching DVDs of the miniseries Tales of the City], suddenly a bolt of lightning struck that said there could be this really chewy, big musical made out this material. I know Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters [who co-wrote the score] and we opened last spring. The show was not finished and we didn’t have enough previews to nail it, but we’re figuring out what the next step for that show will be.

Your colleagues on Bring It On are composer-lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda, who did the barrio hip-hop musical In the Heights, and Tom Kitt, who composed Next to Normal, a musical about mental illness. Who said, “Wow, those guys would make a great team to write a musical about cheerleading.” It’s a funny story, how that evolved. I have been wanting to do a cheerleading musical since 2004. Real athletic cheerleading is amazing to watch, if you see it on ESPN; plus, it has a built-in performance component that is so helpful in a musical. A cheerleading structure is perfect and it’s something you can see live that a lot of people haven’t.

My agent knew [of my interest] and told me about Bring It On; I said “Sign me up!” I’d never done a movie adaptation but I was totally onboard. Plus at the first meeting, the [producers] said they’d be interested in doing an original story instead of basing it on the first movie or one of the four [direct-to-video] sequels, so this was a huge opportunity. [Director] Andy Blankenbuehler had choreographed In the Heights [so he had worked with Lin-Manuel]. So that’s how that came together.

It’s a different style for you, too, not just Miranda and Kitt. Yes, Tales is full of angel dust, pot-smoking and child pornographers and Avenue Q is called the “potty-mouthed puppet musical.” So I really wanted to do a musical I could bring my nieces to. There are these warnings of sexual content, but really?

All three of the musicals have been excruciating. You have to get all of these disparate parts to have this one sensibility and have cohesion. I was working with great collaborators [in Bring It On], people I loved to be in the room with. When they start to click they are truly exciting. It’s been a great

Here’s a very gay question: Among you, Miranda and Kitt, who has the bigger Tony Award? You ever whipped ’em out and compared? They actually made the stand bigger since I won! But I’d say Tom [Kitt] wins, because he has a Pulitzer, too.

Where do you keep your Tony?  I have this trophy collection I pick up from flea markets — weird, old stuff, like senior body building trophies. So my Tony sits among all those.

You’re the only gay guy on the creative team for Bring It On. Do you still like to gay it up? It is a musical, after all.  Absolutely, I always try to put gay characters in my shows. I didn’t wanna go with a cliché in Bring It On, but without giving anything away, you’ll see there’s a character there that’s definitely a first-of-her-kind in a musical. I found a fresh take.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

‘Spring Awakening’ tonight at WaterTower

Coming of age

“This rock musical adaptation of an 1891 German play is set against the backdrop of a progressive and provincial late 19th century Germany.  Spring Awakening tells the timeless story of teenage self-discovery and budding sexuality through the eyes of three teenagers.  Haunting and provocative, Spring Awakening celebrates an unforgettable journey from youth to adulthood.  The musical won multiple Tony Awards (8 awards including Best Musical).”

— from WaterTowerTheatre.org

DEETS: WaterTower Theatre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison. 7:30 p.m. $20–$50. WaterTowerTheatre.org.

—  Rich Lopez

What’s Brewing: Hearing today on Prop 8 judge’s sexuality; Gov. Perry defends Day of Prayer

Judge Vaughn Walker

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Prop 8 suppporters today will ask Judge Vaughn Walker’s successor to vacate his ruling declaring California’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, on the grounds that Walker is in a long-term relationship with another man. Chief U.S. Judge James Ware will hear arguments on their motion this morning in San Francisco, and he could rule right away or at a later date. The motion to vacate a ruling based on the judge’s sexual orientation is highly unusual if not unprecedented, and experts say it’s unlikely to succeed. Meanwhile, it’s also unlikely that same-sex marriage will be back on the ballot in California in 2012.

2. In an e-mail to The New York Times, Gov. Rick Perry defended his plans for a Christian-only Day of Prayer event funded by the American Family Association, a designated anti-gay hate group. “The A.F.A. is a group that promotes faith and strong families, and this event is about bringing Americans together in prayer,” he said in his e-mail, adding that “I have made it clear that I believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman.”Ju

3. Sunday night’s Tony Awards ceremony was as gay as ever, with host Neil Patrick Harris performing “Theater is not just for gays any more” as the opening number, and the Broadway production of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart taking three honors. Watch video below of the opening and read Arnold Wayne Jones’ full recap. For a full list of winners, go here.

—  John Wright

Tony Award wrap-up: Totally gay (again)

It was an untenable situation for the gay Dallasite: Watch the Tony Awards or game 6 of the Mavs? Thank god I had two DVRs. Best of both worlds.

Of course, the Tony Awards are always the gayest of award shows, and they did nothing to disguise that Sunday night starting with the opening number by the telecast’s gay host, Neil Patrick Harris, “‘[Theater] is not Just for Gays Anymore.” He then did a medley duet with Hugh Jackman that was damn funny. (It got even gayer when Martha Wash performed “It’s Raining Men” with cast of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.)

Then the first award of the evening went to Ellen Barkin for her Broadway debut in Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, giving a shout out to the 30th anniversary of the AIDS epidemic. She was immediately followed by gay actor and Plano native John Benjamin Hickey for his role in The Normal Heart. (He even chastised his family: “You’d better not be watching the Mavericks game.” Sorry, John, I for one kept flipping between them.) The play also won the award for best revival — a controversial choice, since The Normal Heart never opened on Broadway until this year, usually a requirement for a revival nominations (some thought it should be eligible for best play). Kramer accepted the award. “To gay people everywhere whom I love so, The Normal Heart is our history. I could not have written it had not so many of us so needlessly died. Learn from it and carry on the fight.”

The very gay-friendly Book of Mormon from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone won several off-camera awards, including score of a musical (the composers thanking gay producer Scott Rudin), orchestrations, scenic design, lighting design and sound design, before taking their first onscreen trophy for best direction of a musical to Parker and gay director Casey Nicholaw (The Drowsy Chaperone), on its way to winning nine total awards, including best musical, best featured actress (newcomer Nikki M. James, defeating prior winners Laura Benanti, Patti LuPone and Victoria Clark and prior nominee Tammy Blanchard) and book of a musical.

“This is such a waste of time — it’s like taking a hooker to dinner,” said best musical presenter Chris Rock before announcing The Book of Mormon for the night’s last prize, best musical.

Other winners in the musical category include John Larroquette for best featured actor (How to Succeed…, apparently the only straight nominee in his category), choreographer Kathleen Marshall for Anything Goes, which also beat How to Succeed for best revival of a musical and won best actress for Sutton Foster. Norbert Leo Butz was the surprise winner for best actor in a musical for Catch Me If You Can. One more really gay winner: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert took best costumes, natch.

The big winner in the play category (other than The Normal Heart) was the brilliant War Horse, which won 5: best play, direction, lighting design, sound design, scenic design, as well as a special Tony for the puppet designs of the horses.

Other play winners include The Importance of Being Earnest (costumes), Good People (best actress Frances McDormand) and Jerusalem, a surprise winner for best actor Mark Rylance.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones