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A Midsummer Chat With Billy Porter and Stark Sands of Kinky Boots

TheaterMania revisits a classic interview with Sands and Porter to herald their return to Broadway's kinkiest show.

On September 26, Stark Sands and Billy Porter will reprise the roles they originated in Broadway's Kinky Boots. To celebrate, TheaterMania is reposting an interview that they gave in Porter's dressing room at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre in July 2013, shortly after Porter had won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.

Billy Porter and Stark Sands star in Kinky Boots on Broadway.
(© Gavin Bond)

If you enter the Al Hirschfield Theatre through the stage door on West 45th Street, you'll find a labyrinthine series of staircases and hallways. Much like a medieval European city, this layout is confusing to an outsider. If you know the right path, however, you'll come upon a well-appointed dressing room complete with a spacious bathroom, fully stocked bar, and about a million sequins crying out for attention from the confines of a sagging costume rack. This is the lair of Lola…or more accurately, Billy Porter, Tony Award winner for Best Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of the drag diva Lola in Kinky Boots.

"This is my midtown office," Porter explained when we met there one sunny afternoon. "I had a photo shoot today. I had to drop some stuff off. I went and had lunch. I did some writing at the Starbuck." [Yes, that's really how he says it.]

His costar and fellow Tony nominee, Stark Sands, chimed in, "This is why he has a full dinner set on the shelf over there." Sands has his own dressing room, but it's not as homey as Porter's, so he's come down to hang out with us on Lola's couch. Both Porter and Sands have a habit of showing up to the theater extra early. Porter does it to prepare for Lola's complicated hair and makeup. For Sands, it is force of habit from his American Idiot days, when he had to be at the St. James Theatre three hours before curtain for a fly call.

Beyond those reasons, this is clearly a space in which the two actors feel at home, so it was the perfect place to chat about their Broadway exploits:

Stark Sands plays Charlie Price and Billy Porter plays Lola in Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein's Kinky Boots, directed by Jerry Mitchell, at Broadway's Al Hirschfeld Theatre.
(© Matthew Murphy)

That's quite a liquor cabinet. How long have you been accumulating those?
Billy Porter: Since the beginning. I would rather people give me liquor than flowers, but the memo is not out yet.

It lasts longer. What's your drink of choice?
Billy: Scotch.

And is that a post-show ritual?
Billy: No, no…Sundays only.

Billy, in your Tony acceptance speech, you said to Stark, "I share this award with you. Imma keep it at my house, but I share it with you." So where is it in your house?
Billy: Well, I just got it the other day and I don't really have any furniture. I mean, I do have a little bit.

Stark Sands: But this dressing room is fully furnished.

Billy: Yeah! I'm here more often than I am at my apartment.

Billy Porter and Stark Sands lead the cast of Broadway's Kinky Boots.
(© Matthew Murphy)

Do you ever sleep at the theater?
Stark: I've taken a few naps between shows, on days when I'm really tired. Mostly, it's not between shows, though, but after some press event. I can manage to take a half-hour nap and wake up in time to get it back.

Billy: Yeah…I have a few years on him. Black don't crack, so we look like we're similar ages, but you know…I actually feel my age when I try to go to sleep between shows. I just can't do it.

Do you have Broadway-themed dreams when you're sleeping in the Al Hirschfeld Theatre?
Stark: I don't sleep long enough to have any dreams at the theater, but I have had the actor's nightmare a lot in the last two months. It's when you show up and you don't know the lines and you're just shoved onstage and you have to wing it.

Billy: I had a nightmare leading up to the Tonys where we were doing the number and somebody backstage stole my tux and there were no other clothes for me to wear. So my options were to go back to my seat as Lola or go naked. That was weird. I woke up before I had to make that choice.

"Land of Lola" was recently made into a dance remix. Do you feel a little bit like Whitney Houston?
Billy: I guess you could say yes, because it was my idea to go back into the studio and re-record.

Stark: You recorded it again?

Billy: Yeah, I went into the studio last week and redid vocals.

Stark: Oh, I didn't know that.

Billy: It's like those divas used to do, back in the day when I was on the dance floor.

Sure. Whitney, Celine…
Billy: Whitney, Aretha, Deborah Cox…Mariah — she's lesser on the list for me — but like, even her. They would go back — Toni Braxton — into the studio and re-sing it. It would give more life to the original. So we did that last Friday.

Stark Sands, Annaleigh Ashford, and Billy Porter appeared in the original Broadway cast of Kinky Boots.
(© Matthew Murphy)

You obviously know a lot about this type of music. Are you a club kid?
Billy: I was…back in the late '80s, early '90s.

Did you go to circuit parties?
Billy: I was at many circuit parties.

Stark: What's a circuit party?

Billy: Circuit parties are when a bunch of queens get together and dance for 12 to 19 hours.

Stark: Why is it called a circuit party?

Billy: Because it's a circuit. So like, the White Party: There's a white party here, there's one in Miami, there's one in Palm Springs. All the queens go.

Stark: Gotcha.

What's the worst part of being in a Broadway show in the dog days of summer?
Stark: This theater is made of old bricks and stone. There's no real proper central air conditioning. It gets really hot onstage. It has particularly in the last two weeks. It gets to the point where, at the end of "Sex is in the Heel," when we're having our scene out in front of the factory — nobody else can see it — but I'm watching his face melt. Makeup is just streaming down his face, orange raindrops are sitting on his eyelashes. There's a way to turn the A.C. up, but when we do that, it affects our voices. So it's a balancing act.

Billy Porter takes a bow on the opening night of Kinky Boots as castmate Stark Sands looks on.
(© David Gordon)

You've been working on this show for quite a while now. Do you have anything you'd like to ask each other that you haven't yet?
Stark: Can I have the Tony for a weekend?

Billy: Yes. In fact, you can have it for a whole week.