Of starring as the Teen Angel in 1994’s ‘Grease’ revival, Billy Porter made his thoughts clear: “I don’t like that show. Never did.”
Billy Porter is bringing his characteristic candor to his memories of starring in Grease.
The Tony-winning Kinky Boots star earned his third Broadway credit in 1994 when he joined the revival of the iconic musical in the role of “Beauty School Dropout” singer Teen Angel. But, he now says, he “didn’t want to do that show to begin with.”
In an interview with Vulture published Monday, Porter, 54, said, “I don’t like that show. Never did.”
Grease, the ’50s rock musical from Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, first ran on Broadway from 1972 to 1980. Its revival, led by Ricky Paull Goldin as Danny and Susan Wood as Sandy, featured Porter as the scene-stealing Teen Angel — in, as he told Vulture, “14 inches of orange rubber hair, a white spacesuit, and glitter all over my face.”
Related: 'Grease' Cast: Where Are They Now?
Looking back, Porter said, the Broadway revival instead “made me a clown!”
He continued: “During auditions, everybody else had a role to read for. They were just calling me in. They gave me carte blanche to do whatever I wanted with the song.”
The actor-writer arranged his own “Blackity-Black-Black” version of the “Beauty School Dropout” tune, he added. “I thought, They’re gonna hate this and I’m gonna be done with it. No. They loved it.”
Audiences seeing him as that production’s eccentrically orange character, Porter said, resulted in a career setback. “It took me 25 years to dig myself out of the hole of that visual,” he stated. “I’m already gay, I’m already Black, and now you’ve turned me into this magical fairy.
“I went to CMU to study drama, like everybody else that y’all love, the Meryl Streeps and the Viola Davises. I went to school like that, and y’all turned me into a clown because it’s easy. ‘He sings real high, he’s a little sissy, so that’s it!’”
It wasn’t until he was cast in the more serious role of Belize, in Signature Theatre Company's 20th anniversary production of Tony Kushner's Angels in America in 2010, that he was able to reassert himself as a serious actor, he added.
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This isn’t the first time Porter has spoken out about his negative feelings about Grease. In 2017, the Emmy-winning Pose star started a New York Times op-ed by describing his performance as “prancing around like a Little Richard automaton on crack.”
Porter, who needs only an Oscar to complete EGOT status, is set to star in a James Baldwin biopic based on a biography of the civil rights activist. This year he appeared on the big screen in the films Our Son and 80 for Brady.
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