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Billy Porter was born on September 21, 1969 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He studied musical theatre at the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School and later graduated from Carnegie Mellon University's College of Fine Arts with a bachelor's degree in drama. He made his Broadway debut in the ensemble of the original 1991 Broadway production of Miss Saigon. His breakthrough stage role came in 1994, however, when he played the role of Teen Angel in Grease.
Porter made his Off-Broadway debut at The Public Theater as Solanio in the 1995 revival of The Merchant of Venice and performed in Jason Robert Brown's Songs for a New World at WPA Theatre that same year. He then returned to Broadway in Smokey Joe's Cafe until 1997. A year later, he rejoined the Broadway cast of Miss Saigon, this time assuming the role of John until 1999.
Over the next few years, Porter mainly appeared off Broadway, making appearances at The Public Theater in Radiant Baby in 2003 and Ghetto Superstar (which he also wrote) in 2005. He also appeared in Second Stage Theater's production of Birdie Blue in 2005 and, most notably, he took on the role of Belize in Signature Theatre's 20th anniversary production of Angels in America in 2010.
Porter's biggest stage role to date is the role of drag queen Lola, which he originated, in the Broadway premiere of Kinky Boots in 2013. He won the Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical that same year.
His next Broadway venture came in 2016, starring alongside Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Brandon Victor Dixon, and Joshua Henry in Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed.
He returned to his Tony Award-winning role of Lola in Kinky Boots on September 26, 2017 for a limited engagement through to January 7, 2018.