What a children’s writer learned from a fierce diva’s cabaret act

Billy Porter was just in Provincetown for a three-night nightclub engagement. You know, the Billy Porter who won a Tony for the role of Lola in Broadway’s hit “Kinky Boots.” He sang with supreme confidence in a skirt, a killer hat and some kick-ass ankle boots.

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He paid homage to “Kinky Boots” (now on national tour with someone else in the lead role) without irony or sarcasm, honoring it as the show that changed his life, that brought him to a new level of artistic growth. He described reassuming the role of Lola when the national tour hit his hometown of Pittsburgh: “the prodigal son came home… in a dress.”  In his Pittsburgh childhood, he said, he’d been “bullied… discarded… told by the ministers at the front of the church that I was worth nothing because of my homosexuality.” Years later, he conquered the Pittsburgh stage as Lola, in a play that, as he said, “changed hearts and minds…. it was the ministry of Lola.” A triumph.

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A professional career coach recently told me that the most successful people are the ones who know WHY they are going what they are doing. The WHY behind the work drives success, clarity, and vision.

As Billy swept through the audience, eliciting participation and making merry, he neared a smiling mom and her androgynous teen. As he walked past, he placed his hand for a moment on that teen’s shoulder. That moment, that gesture, said so much. Ministry, indeed.

Billy also paid homage to Cyndi Lauper, lyricist of “Kinky Boots.” “She wrote the hell out of that song” he said of one number… and told us about her completely rewriting Charlie’s “want” song four days before Broadway opening… because it needed it! Then he sang the song so we could admire her artistry.

Seeing this show rearranged all my brain cells. There was music, fierce fashion, food for writing thought, activism and beauty. Billy Porter is a genius– it was a delight to see him in a small venue.  He clearly knows the WHY of what he is doing, and it shines out of him with a laser’s intensity. His example made me, someone who writes for kids, a better writer in that one evening, crystallizing my own WHY that keeps me writing, persisting, creating.

Here’s my favorite song from “Kinky Boots,” which Billy sang solo in Provincetown quite beautifully. Enjoy!

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