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[ART]

STEEL, SMOKE

HE JUST COULDN’T GET ROLES

{BY ONASTASIA YOUSSEF}

INFO@PGHCITYPAPER.COM

ROLLING HILLS, SATANIC MILLS continues through Sun., Aug. 2. Frick Art & Historical Center, 7227 Reynolds St., Point Breeze. 412-471-5605 or www.thefrickpittsburgh.org N E W S

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NEXT STAGES FOR MR. PORTER [STAGE]

{BY BILL O’DRISCOLL}

{IMAGE COURTESY OF AMERICAN FEDERATION OF ARTS}

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“The Bard,” by Thomas Jones

This summer, the former estate of steel mogul Henry Clay Frick hosts the sublime Rolling Hills, Satanic Mills: The British Passion for Landscape. Some might see both British landscape painting and views of the early Industrial Age as passé, but this exhibit is surprisingly broad in scope. Satirical engravings, post-modern industrial paintings and 21st-century land art shine alongside 19th-century masterpieces. Refreshingly, this major traveling exhibit highlights Welsh history and art. In fact, all 62 works are on loan from the National Museum of Wales, which organized the show along with the American Federation of Arts, and many works are Welsh in origin. “The Bard,” a 1774 painting by Thomas Jones, depicts the English conquest of Wales. Sarah Hall, the Frick’s director of curatorial affairs, describes the work as a “grand nationalistic history painting.” “You see the last bard with the dead bodies around him and he is going to plunge off the cliff and choose his own fate rather than wait for the English invaders,” says Hall. “It is a very supernatural feeling, the doves coming up as if they are the spirits of the ... dead bards themselves.” The exhibit’s all-star roster of artists also includes John Constable, J.M.W. Turner, Gainsborough and Monet, among others. One of the biggest surprises in Rolling Hills are two full-color photographs by Richard Long and David Nash. For “Snowdonia Stones” and “Ash Dome,” the artists constructed druid-inspired circles of trees and stones as “their way of going back and forming a more personal connection to the land,” says Hall. She says these images are visitor favorites. Hall hopes that Pittsburghers will have the same feeling of connection after seeing Rolling Hills. “All landscapes are meant as homes for our imagination,” she says, “We can go out to our own landscape and have a new sense of belonging.” The complementary mini-exhibit Hills and Mills enhances this sense of belonging with a set of rare prints from local collectors Bruce and Sheryl Wolf, depicting Pittsburgh at the turn of the last century, as steel mills were first defining the local landscape. Too many art exhibits fail to either educate or inspire. But Rolling Hills, Satanic Mills does both, and will be a highlight of your summer.

ILLY PORTER’S HAD a pretty decent

couple of years. In 2013, he won the Tony and Drama Desk awards for best actor in a musical, for playing the drag queen Lola in Broadway hit Kinky Boots. In 2014, while still starring in Kinky Boots, the Pittsburgh native released a solo album of standards titled Billy’s Back on Broadway, and his own play While I Yet Live received its debut production off-Broadway. Nor is Porter slowing up. This past April, during his hiatus from Kinky Boots, PBS aired his Live From Lincoln Center special. Porter even found time to guest-judge on So You Think You Can Dance. Porter, 45, is savoring such successes — including what promises to be a triumphant return to the local stage as Pittsburgh CLO hosts the touring production of Kinky Boots, Aug. 4-9. But he’s also looking ahead. It’s not just that his Kinky Boots contract ends in January; Porter recently told CP he has another Broadway role lined up, though he couldn’t yet divulge the show’s title. It’s also that he’s getting deeper into writing — a development that surprises even him. “I never ever ever set out to be a writer,” he says. Porter, after all, first made his name with his voice. He grew up in East Liberty and Homewood; he sang gospel, attended Pittsburgh CAPA and studied theater at Carnegie Mellon University. He graduated from CMU in 1991 and, thanks largely to the vocal chops that made him a 1992 winner on Star Search, transitioned to Broad-

{PHOTO BY HEATHER MULL}

Billy Porter photographed in 2005 at City Theatre, in Pittsburgh, in rehearsal for his one-man show Ghetto Superstar

way. In the 1990s, he appeared in shows including Grease, Five Guys Named Moe and Miss Saigon.

KINKY BOOTS Aug. 4-9. Pittsburgh CLO at the Benedum Center, 719 Liberty Ave., Downtown. $40.75-140.75. 412-456-6666 or www.pittsburghclo.org

Then came what Porter calls “the lean years.” He just couldn’t get roles. That might have had partly to do with his voice changing over time. But mostly,

Porter has said, he was both pigeonholed by showy roles like Grease’s Teen Angel and, as a gay black man, simply shut out of other opportunities. Porter worked the whole time, including acting and directing jobs back in Pittsburgh. (He starred, for instance, in City Theatre’s fine 2004 production of Topdog/ Underdog.) But for 13 years — a show-biz eternity — Porter was off Broadway. That set the stage for what The New York Times called “one of the most remarkable riseand-fall-and-rebound stories in New York theater in recent years.” CONTINUES ON PG. 32

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Profile for Pittsburgh City Paper

July 29, 2015  

Pittsburgh City Paper Volume 25 Issue 30

July 29, 2015  

Pittsburgh City Paper Volume 25 Issue 30