Billy Porter: Billy’s Back on Broadway

Sammy Davis Jr. had been absent from the Great White Way for seven years when, in 1964, he began an extended run in the musical adaptation of Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy. Trading on its success, Davis released Sammy’s Back on Broadway, a collection of then-contemporary show tunes, including one from his own show. Five decades later, musical theatre and cabaret headliner Billy Porter originated the role of Lola, the drag performer who proves the unexpected champion of an insolvent British shoemaker in the Broadway adaptation of the 2005 film Kinky Boots.

For his first disc since 2007’s vivacious, gospel-tinged At the Corner of Broadway + Soul, Porter uses Davis’ album as a loose blueprint. Though one of Kinky Boots‘ best numbers, the poignant “I’m Not My Father’s Son,” is included, as is Dreamgirls‘ pivotal “I Am Changing,” Porter favors more vintage material, mostly from Broadway, to fill his 10-track playlist.

Porter sounds nothing like Davis, instead suggesting a curious yet tremendously affecting jumble of Jimmy Scott, Bobby Short and Ben Vereen, yet he shares Davis’ chutzpah and virtuosic showmanship. That he can belt bravura versions of such showstoppers as “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” is hardly surprising. Most impressive, though, are the album’s more understated moments, particularly a shimmering rendition of the Davis anthem “I’ve Gotta Be Me” and a sage interpretation of “On the Street Where You Live,” likely the first to fully appreciate the lovelorn ache that underscores its heady romanticism.