Richard Rodgers was notoriously picky about reinterpretations of his compositions. When asked his opinion of Peggy Lee’s transformation of “Lover” from dreamy waltz to thundering foreplay, he replied, “I don’t know why Peggy had to pick on me when she could have fucked up ‘Silent Night.’” One can, then, only imagine Rodgers’ reaction to Billy Porter’s re-workings of a dozen of his show tunes, spanning his years with Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein. In fact, Porter, a marvelous vocal amalgam of jazz, soul and funk, brings a bold freshness to the material, still Broadway-worthy but mirroring Hamilton’s dazzling unorthodoxy.
And Porter has plenty of top-drawer assistance, including Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr., his partner for a sparkling “My Romance,” and Deborah Cox, onboard for a towering “This Nearly Was Mine.” A winningly funkified “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” features Pentatonix, while a transcendent “Bewitched” counters the soulful wail of Ledisi with the muscular brazenness of Bronx rapper Zaire Park (also called upon to embolden “The Lady Is a Tramp”).
And two tracks have a distinct political agenda. It’s surely obvious which Western leader is the “man” in question when Porter unites with Kinky Boots star Todrick Hall for a wonderfully cheeky “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” (complete with f-bombs). More overtly, Porter closes with the gentle “Edelweiss,” using a spoken interlude to liken the flower’s durability in harsh conditions to America’s need to “flourish in the darkest of times.”