Billy Porter: The Heart and Soul of Kinky Boots

Billy Porter: The Heart and Soul of Kinky Boots

Adriana Nocco

There is a specific moment within Kinky Boots during which, in my opinion, the show truly comes alive. In the middle of Act 1, the audience is transported to a shadowy London nightclub that has an air of mystery about it, and dance music thrums out a steady beat that causes everyone to lean forward, teetering on the edges of their seats, in anticipation of what is to come. The silhouette of a glamorous woman occupies center stage, and as lights illuminate her sequined red dress, perfectly styled wig, fashionable heels, and fierce figure, she implores us to “leave expectations at the door” and immerse ourselves in her performance. Her dazzling backup dancers, fellow drag queens known as her “angels,” join her, and we are completely captivated. She has taken us to the “Land of Lola,” where ladies, gentlemen, and “those who have yet to make up their minds” are all welcome, and things are almost never as they seem. In this very moment, the show is utterly electrified, and all “expectations” have not only been left at the door of the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, they have been thoroughly exceeded. 

On Tuesday, June 30th, I had the pleasure of attending Kinky Boots on Broadway for a second time; I attended the show once prior in 2013, complete with its full original cast. In fact, in 2013, I saw Kinky Boots, fell in love with it, bought the cast recording, and listened to it on repeat for months (all in rapid succession). I even went on to perform one of my favorite songs from the show, “The History of Wrong Guys,” at a cabaret in the summer of 2014. So, naturally, I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to see Kinky Boots a second time, and had an absolute blast. (I actually found myself fighting the urge to sing along with every song in the score.) I cracked up, shed tears, and fully enjoyed myself all over again. In addition, on June 30th, I felt that a belief of mine concerning Kinky Boots had been reaffirmed: Billy Porter (as Lola) is the heart and soul of that musical. 

Now, don’t get me wrong; Kinky Boots possesses a wonderful cast. The “angels” are remarkable and entrancing, their dancing is second-to-none (and executed in high heels, no less), and they provide Kinky Boots with vital energy. Haven Burton and Cortney Wolfson (as Lauren and Nicola, respectively) each do an admirable job, although it is always an extremely difficult task to fill the shoes of original cast members (especially the likes of Annaleigh Ashford and Lena Hall, who are goddesses of theatre in my eyes). Of the supporting cast members I saw on June 30th, I feel particularly partial towards Daniel Stewart Sherman, who originated the role of Don in 2013 and has been performing as Don on Broadway ever since. I was incredibly fond of his performance on both occasions (in 2013 and this past Tuesday); his Don is a source of comedy, but also lends sweetness and honesty to Kinky Boots’ heartwarming message. I found my eyes following Sherman as Don both when he was the center of attention and when he was reacting to action as a bystander, and felt that although his character starts out as prejudiced and judgmental, throughout the show, Don possesses a sort of goofy charm (due to Sherman’s natural onstage charisma). The growth and change that Don undergoes during Kinky Boots feels honest and well illustrated thanks to Sherman, and during the show’s final song, “Raise You Up/Just Be,” I cheered loudly for Don as he sung the line, “you change the world when you change your mind” (while clad in heels). 

However, with all that being said, Billy Porter is a force of nature, and breathes unbelievable life both into Lola and into Kinky Boots as a whole. Porter’s dance moves are sharp, his singing exhilarating and profound, and his acting evokes an emotional roller coaster in anyone who bears witness to it; he is a true triple threat, and I could not take my eyes off of him whenever he graced the stage with his phenomenal presence. His Lola is sexy, smart, sassy and hilarious, and is painstakingly open and honest about the person she is. Although Lola always strives to be sincere, she is complicated, and struggles at times (but learns from her struggles and moves forward with new insight). The difference between Lola, the confident, outgoing drag queen, and Simon, the meek, biologically male identity that Lola abandoned in favor of her true self long ago, is palpable, and Porter illustrates the difference between the two beautifully. When Lola is, well, Lola, she is truly happy, for this is the unforced identity that she has created and chosen for herself. Lola cannot, and should not, ever be contained. 

Billy Porter’s Lola shows audiences that accepting oneself and accepting others are two of the most important virtues to learn in life, and although they seem simple, they are much harder to achieve than one might think. However, every person is capable of possessing these two seemingly simple virtues, even people like Don. If every person felt as if they could “just be,” as every character does during Kinky Boots’ beautiful finale does, the world would be a much better place. 

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