Broadway star Billy Porter may be best known for his Tony-winning turn as Lola in Kinky Boots, but he visited the Billboard on Broadway podcast to discuss stepping into a very different role: curator of talent, on his just-released Sony Masterworks Broadway album, Billy Porter Presents the Soul of Richard Rodgers (and yes, he sings on the album too).
“We just wanted to create a conversation with this music that’s so classic and so brilliant,” Porter says of the album, on which he and a host of guest stars re-interpret Rodgers classics. “Hamilton has cracked open the conversation in this millennium, and I’m riding the coattails of that. I want to extend that conversation beyond Hamilton into the rest of the industry. We’re all here. And as you can see on this record, we’re fierce.”
Porter himself is without a doubt one of the most charismatic and multi-faceted performers to emerge on Broadway in the past twenty years, but as he notes while chatting with host Rebecca Milzoff, he’s always been well-aware of the talent that surrounds him, too – hence the album’s impressive roster of guests. “When I started owning the leader in me, it’s always been about pulling my friends in and figuring out how we can collectively make a statement,” Porter says. “One of the things I think is missing from the market is what it used to be like in the golden age of musical theater. Popular music played on the radio came from the theater.”
Many of those popular songs were written by Richard Rodgers (often with his songwriting partner Oscar Hammerstein II). Rodgers, Porter says, “still transcends generations. Even when you think you don’t know a Richard Rodgers song, you hear ‘My Funny Valentine’ and it’s like, oh, he wrote that? ‘Do a Deer’ is the first song I learned in elementary school.” On this record, he hopes to show that Rodgers’ songs “can touch a whole different kind of person than [he] ever originally intended. That excites me.”
Listen to the full podcast to hear Porter go on to describe his stylistic approach to Rodgers’ songs, delving into his own musical career and influences (ranging from gospel to neosoul) and discussing the often radical-for-its-time political message beneath many Rodgers and Hammerstein songs from musicals like South Pacific, The Sound of Music and The King and I.