Album Review: Billy Porter Presents: The Soul of Richard Rodgers

“I have dreamed what a joy you’ll be”

Who knew that exploring the soul of Richard Rodgers would reveal a Lauryn Hill sample and a guest rap from upcoming Bronx rapper Zaire Park? And that’s just on ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’ alone. But that’s exactly what you find on Billy Porter Presents: The Soul of Richard Rodgers, a project co-produced and co-curated by Billy Porter, the Tony Award-winning Broadway actor and musician.

With lyricists Oscar Hammerstein II and Lorenz Hart, legendary composer Richard Rodgers redefined the American musical theatre with now-classic musicals like Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music, South Pacific, and The King and I. And now Porter pays tribute to his legacy by reinterpreting his songbook with an entirely more contemporary soulful bent. In his own words, “I like to think of this as the Richard Rodgers version of the Hamilton Mixtapes.” 

To undertake such a task, Porter has dipped into his enviable contact list to produce Broadway royalty (and Hamilton alumni) like Renée Elise Goldsberry, Christopher Jackson and Leslie Odom Jr. and music stars like Deborah Cox and india.arie. And the result is something really quite special. Musically, it has something of the air of the excellent Verve Remixed project, with its entirely respectful but boldly forward-thinking approach.

So the aforementioned ‘Bewitched’ becomes a sparkling piece of contemporary r’n’b in Ledisi’s assured performance, and Porter imbues ‘Lady is a Tramp’ with a funkily laidback charm, both augmented by smooth rhymes from Zaire Park. And there’s a strong vein of neo-soul – paying its dues to the titans of soul as well as Mr Rodgers – in the gorgeous work from Deborah Cox on ‘This Nearly was Mine’ and Renée Elise Goldsberry and Christopher Jackson on ‘If I Loved You’ (taking it to places Alfie Boe and Katherine Jenkins could only dream of!)

The main strength of the album is how much fun it is, a real sense of the joy of song – no matter the style of music – pervading from start to finish. From Leslie Odom Jr. sliding through ‘My Romance’, to Brandon Victor Dixon and Joshua Henry’s sinuous take on ‘With a Song in My Heart’ to Patina Miller’s inspirational wonder on ‘I Have Dreamed’, this is a fearless, fun and fresh collection that just might bring a whole new audience to the Great American Songbook.

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