Photo courtesy of Republic Records

When Billy Porter arrives in May, San Antonio will know. Not much of a wallflower, the singer and actor (just an "O" away from "EGOT"), is known for bombastic entrances, vulnerable and groundbreaking characters, and red carpet showstoppers.

In case anyone is drawing a blank on any part of Porter's decades-long resume when the "Oh my God, there's Billy Porter" whispers start circulating, the star is coming to Texas with a career retrospective in the form of a pop concert. The San Antonio stop of the Black Mona Lisa Tour: Volume 1 will be at the Tobin Center on May 12.

Porter's early fame was mostly on Broadway, first as Teen Angel in the 1994 revival of Grease and later as drag queen Lola, star of Kinky Boots. Now audiences' freshest impressions of Porter are likely from Pose, a fictional TV series about ballroom culture and gender identity in the 80s, in which the actor played a barbed, but loyal and passionate emcee called Pray Tell.

The show garnered praise for, among many other achievements, bringing the AIDS epidemic to the forefront in an art — drag — that is becoming more and more mainstream in TV adaptations. Porter later shared that his personal experience with HIV, which he had kept quiet for more than a decade, motivated parts of his performance. On April 12, the Hollywood Reporter announced that Porter will play writer and activist James Baldwin in an upcoming feature film.

Queerness, Blackness, and shades of masculinity are nearly always at the center of Porter's work, and music binds it all together. Porter's first album, Untitled, announced the singer to the pop world for the first time in 1997, but since then, most of his musical achievements have been singles, covers, and original performances of works written by other composers. This retrospective tour shares a name with an upcoming album, Black Mona Lisa, that will re-introduce the iconic singer to the pop music space. Things there are warming up already with the release of his new single, "Baby Was A Dancer," a contemporary disco track delivering an uplifting allegory about Porter's personal trajectory.

CultureMap spoke with Porter about the show at the Tobin Center, the single and upcoming album, and the healing he hopes to contribute through his music.

CultureMap: How many costumes do you have for this tour?
BP: Oh, I don’t know. [Laughs.] I’m still working on that. I’ll be changing a couple of times, but … I’m focused on the music.

CM: What do you identify with in the Mona Lisa?
BP: Mona Lisa is past, present, and future. She’s relevant always and forever. That’s me — that’s what I do.

CM: You’ve shared that the goal of this album is to provide healing. What are some of the healing elements of the music itself?
BP: Well, the intention is in the writing, in the lyrics, in the hope of the lyrics, in the joy in the lyrics, and in the melodies; this album is very intentional. And I love it. So I hope everybody else is gonna love it too.

CM: Can we expect more original music like "Baby Was A Dancer" in this album?
BP: Yeah, it's all original music. It's a new pop album. Everything is new, everything is original, and I wrote all but one song with amazing writing teams [including] Justin Tranter, the late, great Andrea Martin, and MNEK.

CM: That single is in the third person. What inspired that angle versus something more confessional and raw?
BP: There's a lot of confessional and raw on the album. ["Baby Was A Dancer"] is about transcending the haters and dancing your way to heaven anyway. So it's just fun to speak in third person because you're sort of presenting [the story] — it's presentational that way.

CM: The show references a lot that people will recognize, and you have a memoir already out called Unprotected. Is there anything that you're telling audiences for the first time?
BP: Well, not really. However, because I exist in so many different creative spaces, those spaces don't always speak to each other. I spent the first 25 years of my career trying to get people to take me seriously as an actor. And now that I have, I've read comments online, like, “Oh, I didn't know Pray Tell could sing.” So it's a bit of an education that's getting ready to happen — for some people.

It’s not a musical theater show even though I'm a theater artist. My very first album came out in 1997 on A&M Records. It was an R&B soul record. The industry was very homophobic at the time, so it didn't work out for me [then]. And now I get a second chance in the mainstream [pop] music industry.

CM: Is there a moment where you felt that switch happen, when you felt like you were in the mainstream?
BP: My whole career has sort of built on itself, and the tipping point — Malcolm Gladwell talks about the tipping point — came with the convergence of everything that had happened before. And then Pose. Pose was where I cracked open beyond the 10-block radius of Broadway.

CM: When you were putting together this show, were there any memories that you regained or connections you made?
BP: I wrote a memoir — I've been connected and reconnected, and been searching and finding things and stories to tell for … four years to write my book, so it wasn't anything new for me. The concert is going to be a retrospective … [and] a celebration of life, and love, and joy, and hope, and peace. My plan is to give the world a big bear hug, and try to help in the healing of our civilization, because we've all been through a collective trauma. We're all still in the middle of it. None of us are okay, and that's okay.

I'm going to do 10 songs from the new album. Then I go back to the '90s. I'm going to do some stuff from my first album, Untitled — I haven't performed anything from that live in decades. There was a lot of trauma connected to that, so I'm releasing that, then I'm doing a lot of the Broadway stuff, Kinky Boots, some political stuff, and some gospel stuff. The last 20 minutes, half hour, is a dance party.

CM: To me, you're known for camp, but you also embody really earnest emotion. How do you find the line between camp and earnestness?
BP: Well, I call it fabulous and serious. Camp is very specific. I'm actually not camp unless I need to be camp. But I'm fabulous; fabulous and serious at the same time. That's my brand. And that's what I'm trying to remind the world: The two things can coexist. One can be fabulous and serious at the same time. And that's what I am. It can be confusing sometimes. But I'm here to let you know, don't be confused. [Laughs] I'm very intelligent, I’m very smart — yes, I wear dresses. Yes, I can be silly. And I know what's going on in the world, and I can go and sit in front of Congress and speak. I'm proud of that.

CM: We saw a lot of that recently at the Capitol, here in Texas. We had some drag queens on the senate floor. You said on a news show that you were “one of the beneficiaries of a government that actually cared about its people,” and talked about the government “pouring into” you. What do you want to pour into Texans who are facing [identity and expression] restrictions right now?
BP: First of all, it's about us coming together as a collective. We're always better together. And we've been siloed in our own spaces because of COVID for years, and that has been exploited. [Then], it's the education. Those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it. The young people weren't here for the civil rights movement; The young people weren't here for the AIDS crisis. Life is cyclical … and love always wins. It takes time.

Being 53 years old, I can look at this and go, I've been here before. I've seen this. And I know how it works out. We win. Look at Tennessee last month. We won't be silenced. We're back in a conservative era; We were in a very progressive era for decades and decades and decades. It's just a moment, and this too shall pass. But we have to engage and take “scary” and “terrified” out of the lexicon. No room for that.

CM: What kind of people do you really hope to see in the audience?
BP: Anybody and everybody. I don't have any definitions of who can be there. I want anybody and everybody who wants to be there, to be there.

This Q&A has been edited for length and readability. Tickets for the show are still available at the Tobin Center.

Courtesy of Susan Hilferty

San Antonio museum displays Broadway's 'Wicked' best costumes in new exhibition

As Glinda the Good Witch says in the iconic Wicked opening, let us "rejoiceify" with the McNay Art Museum's newest exhibit — Something Wicked/Susan Hilferty Costumes.

Hilferty is the costume design mastermind behind the Tony Award-winning costumes in the hit Broadway musical, from Glinda's resplendent blue ballgown to Elphaba's magical finale dress. They're just two of the incredible array of Hilferty costumes currently on display at the McNay. Other costumes spotted were vibrant Ozian outfits, Glinda's pink 'Popular' dress, the Wizard's green suit, and more.

McNay guests can also immerse themselves in the worlds of other musicals Hilferty has designed costumes for, including Annie, Wonderland, and Lestat. There are thirty of Hilferty's brilliant costumes to view in total.

Hilferty has also been confirmed as a guest at the McNay Art Museum's annual Tobin Distinguished Lecture, which will take place on Thursday, March 23, 2023. (Guests can purchase tickets for the lecture on the McNay website closer to the event date).

The Tony Award-winning costume and set designer collaborated with R. Scott Blackshire, Ph.D., curator of the Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts to create a truly enchanting experience that will officially be housed at the McNay until Sunday, March 26th, 2023.

Dr. Blackshire had nothing but praise for the exciting collaboration, noting in an official statement that, "Helping [Hilferty] honor the makers, artisans, knitters, fabric painters, and others who bring her designs to the stage was a privilege. Susan relies on creative collaboration for every production she designs."

The importance of the exhibition for San Antonio's local prosperous theatre community was not lost on Dr. Blackshire, who also stated, "The community of San Antonio theatre makers who visit the exhibition will find many of their art forms represented and reflected in the costumes."

Something Wicked/Susan Hilferty Costumes is now open to the public in the Tobin Theatre Arts and Brown Galleries at the McNay Art Museum until March 23, 2023.

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Whataburger weighs in as healthiest cheeseburger in the nation


With its love of greasy enchiladas, gluttonous fried steaks, and fat-speckled brisket, San Antonio isn’t exactly known as a healthy eating mecca. But it turns out that one locally beloved dish isn’t as unhealthy as one might think.

Inspired by February’s American Heart Month (albeit belatedly), Gambling.com decided to dig deep into which fast-food burger was best for the ticker and the body overall. What that has to do with online slots is anyone’s guess, but perhaps open-heart surgeries are not conducive to risk-taking.

Surprise, surprise, surprise! Local favorite/ food cult Whataburger took the top slot, earning honors with its standby cheeseburger. Assumably, the gambling site considered the mustard-slathered original, eschewing calorie bombs like bacon slices and creamy pepper sauce. Where’s the fun of Whataburger if you can’t get it just like you like it?

To arrive at the rankings, Gambling.com analyzed each burger for sugar, fat, salt, and calorie content per ounce. Each metric was given a one to ten score that factored into the final report card shared with content-hungry food journalists everywhere.

Coming in a close second was In-N-Out’s cheeseburger, a comforting fact for Texans who enjoy complaining about Californians. Rounding out the top five were Checker’s Checkerburger with Cheese, Culver’s ButterBurger Cheese, and Del Taco’s del Cheese Burger.

For those trying to make better eating choices, that list should give some pause. Yes, Whataburger beats out other fast-food faves, but it was competing against a chain that literally toasts all their buns in churned cream. Health is a relative concept.

Elsewhere on the list was another Texas darling, the No. 6 ranked Dairy Queen. Apparently, all that “hungr” is being busted by a hefty dose of sodium. Yes, we will take fries with that.

Disney's Little Mermaid remake goes swimmingly despite new so-so songs

Movie review

The biggest problem with the majority of the live-action updates to classic Disney animated films is that they haven’t been updates at all, choosing to merely regurgitate the moments audiences know and love from the original in a slightly repackaged form. That’s great for nostalgia, but if that’s all viewers wanted, they’d just go back and watch the original.

The Little Mermaid falls into much the same trap, although the filmmakers get at least a little credit for trying to offer something new. The story, of course, remains the same, as Ariel (Halle Bailey) has a fascination with everything above the surface of the ocean. Her rebellious nature, at odds with strict King Triton (Javier Bardem), leads her to spy on a ship with Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) and his crew, putting her in position to save Eric when the ship crashes into rocks.

Now totally enamored of Eric, Ariel is convinced by the sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) to give up her voice for a chance to live on land and make Eric fall in love with her. Trouble is, despite the help of Sebastian the crab (Daveed Diggs), Flounder the fish (Jacob Tremblay), and Scuttle the seabird (Awkwafina), Ursula has no plans to let Ariel succeed fair and square.

Directed by Rob Marshall and written by David Magee, the film clocks in at nearly one hour longer than the original, going from 83 minutes to 135. They accomplish this feat with the addition of several songs, including ones “sung” by Ariel while she is without voice, a relatively clever way to get into her thoughts during that long stretch. There are also additional scenes that give Prince Eric more of a backstory, making him more than just a pretty face on which to hang all of Ariel’s hopes and dreams.

The new songs are hit-and-miss; Ariel’s “For the First Time” is a fanciful number that fits in nicely, but “Wild Uncharted Waters,” a solo song for Prince Eric, feels unnecessary, and the less said about “The Scuttlebutt,” a rap performed by Scuttle and written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the better. What most people want to see are how the original songs are done, and they come off well for the most part. The actors’ voices are uniformly good and the staging is engaging.

Other changes seem half-hearted, at best. A vague environmental theme broached at the beginning is quickly dropped. The cast is very multicultural, but haphazardly so. The film is obviously set on and around a Caribbean island, making it natural for The Queen (Noma Dumezweni), Eric’s adopted mother, and other islanders to be Black. But giving Ariel “sisters from the seven seas,” allowing for mermaids of several different races and ethnicities, feels odd and forced, and a little creepy given that King Triton is supposed to be the father of all of them.

The fact that Bailey herself is Black, while great for representation, is neither here nor there in the context of the film. Bailey has a voice that is equal to everything she is asked to sing, and her silent acting is excellent in the middle portion of the film. McCarthy makes for a great Ursula, bringing both humor and pathos to the role. Hauer-King, who bears a similarity to Ryan Gosling, plays Eric in a more well-rounded manner.

The live-action version of The Little Mermaid, like almost all of the Disney remakes, never truly establishes itself as its own unique thing. Still, it’s a thoroughly pleasant watch with some nice performances, which clears the bar for success for this era of Disney history.


The Little Mermaid opens in theaters on May 26.

Halle Bailey in The Little Mermaid

Photo courtesy of Disney

Halle Bailey in The Little Mermaid.

These 6 San Antonio museums are offering free admission for military families all summer long

spread the museum love

Half a dozen San Antonio museums are honoring active-duty military personnel and their families with free admission through the Blue Star Museums initiative, May 20 through September 4, 2023.

Established by the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, and the U.S. Department of Defense, the Blue Star Museums program annually provides military families free access to 2,000 museums nationwide throughout the summer. The program begins yearly on Armed Forces Day in May and ends on Labor Day.

Free admission is extended to personnel currently serving in the U.S Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard (including those in the Reserve), and all National Guardsman. Members of the U.S. Public Health Commissioned Corps and NOAA Commissioned Corps are also included in the program.

Those who qualify can use their military ID to bring up to five family members - including relatives of those currently deployed. More information about qualifications can be found here.

There is no limit on the number of participating museums that qualifying families may visit. Admission for non-active military veterans, however, is not included.

According to the National Endowment for the Arts website, the initiative was created to help "improve the quality of life for active duty military families" with a specific focus on children. The site states two million have had a parent deployed since 2001.

"Blue Star Museums was created to show support for military families who have faced multiple deployments and the challenges of reintegration," the website says. "This program offers these families a chance to visit museums this summer when many will have limited resources and limited time to be together."

Here's a look at all the museums in San Antonio that are participating in the Blue Star Museums initiative this year.

For those looking to take a drive around Central Texas, the Sophienburg Museum & Archives in New Braunfels and Bandera's Frontier Times Museum are also participants in the Blue Star Museums initiative.

More information about Blue Star Museums and a full list of participants can be found on arts.gov.