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As 'Kinky Boots' Celebrates 500th Broadway Performance, New Play by Star Billy Porter Preps for Fall Opening

By Jon Sobel j.sobel@classicalite.com on Jun 19, 2014 04:34 PM EDT

Billy Porter, the Tony Award-winning star of Broadway's Kinky Boots--which marks its 500th performance tonight--is a man of multiple talents. He released an album, Billy's Back on Broadway, in April, and next up, he'll premiere his new play at Primary Stages. While I Yet Live has attracted quite a bit of top talent, including Emmy-winner S. Epatha Merkerson (Law and Order) and Tony winner Lillias White (The Life, Fela!, Chicago).

Porter's autobiographical play depicts coming of age in Pittsburgh surrounded by a group of strong-willed women. Tony nominee Sheryl Kaller (Mothers and Sons, Next Fall) directs a cast that also includes Kevyn Morrow, Larry Powell and Sharon Washington. The production is scheduled to run from September through November.

Kinky Boots represented many people's introduction to Porter, but he's been in show business for 20 years, and While I Yet Live is not the first autobiographical work he's created. In 2005 Porter performed his one-man show Ghetto Superstar at Joe's Pub, and Charles Isherwood of the New York Times called it a "roof-raising musical autobiography." No one who's seen Porter's performance as the splashy cross-dresser "Lola" in Kinky Boots could be surprised at the critic's observation: "Grief, rage and denial play their apportioned roles in his life story, too, as it is detailed in this unabashedly sentimental [earlier] show, but they ultimately take a back seat to righteous flamboyance."

Will that flamboyance shine through in a straight play too? Or, as seems likely, will the new work be a more tempered dramatization?

Sheryl Kaller received a Tony nomination for Next Fall, her Broadway directorial debut, and helmed the current Broadway production of Terrence McNally's Mothers and Sons starring Tyne Daly.

Merkerson, winner of Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards, is best known for her long-running role as Lieutenant Anita Van Buren on TV's Law and Order, but has an extensive stage resume as well. She won an Obie in 2006 for Birdie Blue and two Tony nominations, one for August Wilson's The Piano Lesson in 1990 and another for Come Back, Little Sheba in 2008.

Lillias White won Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for her work in Cy Coleman's The Life in 1997-98. She has also appeared on Broadway in Cats, Carrie, Once on This Island, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying--and also in Dreamgirls. Porter has cited Jennifer Holiday's showstopping performance of that show's "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" as the turnkey to his own dreams of stardom.

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TagsBilly Porter, Kinky Boots, Primary Stages, Off-Broadway, broadway

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