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Billy Porter teams with Idina Menzel to record a holiday classic

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Billy Porter and Idina Menzel keeping warm in their new video duet (Image via YouTube)

As Christmas approaches every year, it always comes with the anticipation (and maybe also the dread) of the next glittery, fabulous new Holiday single to be dropped by a pop music star.

This season has already brought us Sam Smith’s rendition of Donna Summer’s classic “I Feel Love” (okay, not exactly a Christmas song, but coupled with those Target holiday commercials it seems as festive as “Jingle Bells”), but the winner might just have landed under our trees courtesy of not one, but two of Broadway’s brightest lights.

Tony-winning stage superstars Idina Menzel and Billy Porter joined their considerable forces to record a duet of the Irving Berlin-penned wintertime standard, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.” The also-Emmy-winning star of “Pose” and the voice of Elsa in Disney’s mega-hit “Frozen” (and the new Disney mega-hit, “Frozen 2”), who both performed last Thursday in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, posted a video for the classic tune in which they put both their spectacular talents on full display.

The video opens with Menzel thawing out, Elsa-style, a frost-covered group of holiday-dressed dancers, who proceed to make merry around her as she delivers her rendition of the song. Then she turns things over to Porter, who has his own set of festive frolickers to accompany him as he takes his own smoking-hot turn through it. The pair then joins together for a duet on a third and final go-round of the tune that is sure to have even the Grinchiest among us feeling their tiny little hearts growing three sizes larger.

The track is featured on Menzel’s new album, “Christmas: A Season of Love,” on which she also performs duets with Ariana Grande, her husband Aaron Lohr, and fellow Broadway veteran and “Frozen” franchise alum. You can find those tracks, along with the rest of the album, on Spotify and Apple Music right now.

Porter is set to join Menzel onstage for a December 11 concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall. They will also appear together in the upcoming new film version of “Cinderella,” coming sometime in 2020.

“I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” was penned by Berlin – who was also the man behind “White Christmas” – in 1937, when it debuted in the Broadway show, “On the Avenue,” and it is considered part of “The Great American Songbook.” Many popular singers have covered it on hit recordings, perhaps most notably jazz by greats Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong with their duet version on the 1957 album, “Ella and Louis.”

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Photos

PHOTOS: Baltimore Pride in the Park

Annual celebration featured vendors, performers

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(Washington Blade photo by Linus Berggren)

Baltimore Pride in the Park was held at Druid Hill Park on Sunday, June 16.

(Washington Blade photos by Linus Berggren)

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PHOTOS: “Portraits”

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington performs at the Kennedy Center

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A scene from "Portraits," as performed in a technical rehearsal at the Kennedy Center on Saturday, June 15. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington performed “Portraits” at the Kennedy Center on Sunday, June 16.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Theater

Sophie Zmorrod embracing life on the road in ‘Kite Runner’

First national tour comes to Eisenhower Theater on June 25

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Sophie Zmorrod (Photo courtesy of Zmorrod)

‘The Kite Runner’
June 25 – 30
The Kennedy Center
$39-$149
Kennedy-center.org

Newly single, Sophie Zmorrod is enjoying life on the road in the first national tour of “The Kite Runner,” Matthew Spangler’s play with music based on Khaled Hosseini’s gripping novel about damaged relationships and longed for redemption. 

“It’s a wonderful time for me,” says Zmorrod. “I’m past the breakup pain and feeling empowered to explore new cities. A lot of us in the cast are queer, so we figure out the scene wherever the show goes.” 

What’s more, the New York-based actor has fallen in love with the work. “I love how the play’s central character Amir is flawed. He is our antihero. He has faults. As a privileged boy in Kabul, he bears witness to his best friend’s assault and doesn’t intervene. He lives with that guilt for decades and gets that redemption in the end.” 

“He does what he can to right wrongs. For me who’s regretted things, and wished I could go back in time, it resonates. Watching someone forgive themselves and do the right thing is beautiful.” 

Via phone from Chicago (the tour’s stop before moving on to Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater on June 25), Zmorrod, whose background is Lebanese, happily chats about sexuality, ethnicity, and acting. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Looking at your resume, I see you’ve been cast in roles traditionally played by men. And have you played queer characters? 

SOPHIE ZMORROD: Oh yes, both. Whether or not they’re written on the page as queer, they sometimes turn out that way. And that holds true for this show too.  

With “The Winter’s Tale” at Trinity Rep, I played Leontes — the king who banishes his wife — as a woman. So, in that production it was about two women and touched on the violence that women sometimes inflict on other women.

And there was Beadle Bamford in Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” also at Trinity Rep; I played him as a woman who was masculine and wore a suit. It was a great opportunity to explore myself and gender expression. That was a really good experience. 

BLADE: Are you an actor who’s often be called in for queer roles? 

ZMORRAD: Not really. I’m what you might call straight passing. Sometimes I’ve had to advocate for my queerness. To be a part of something. 

Similarly with my ethnicity. I’m called in to audition for the white and Arab roles. It gets tricky because I’m not the exactly the white girl next door and I’m not exactly Jasmine from Disney’s “Aladdin” either. 

This is one of the reasons, I really want people to come see “The Kite Runner,” Audiences need to experience the reality of the wide diversity of Middle Eastern people on the stage. We’re all very different.

And not incidentally, from this 14-person cast, I’ve met some great people to add to those I know from the Middle Eastern affinity spaces and groups I’m connected to in New York.

BLADE: In “The Kite Runner” what parts do you play?

 ZMORRAD: Three characters. All women, I think. In the first act, I’m an elderly eccentric pomegranate seller in the Afghan market, waddling around, speaking in Dari [the lingua franca of Afghanistan]; and the second act, I’m young hip and sell records in a San Francisco market; and at the end, I’m a buttoned-down American immigration bureaucrat advising Amir about adoption.

BLADE:  Your training is impressive: BA cum laude in music from Columbia University, an MFA in acting from Brown University/Trinity Repertory Company, and you’re also accomplished in opera and playwrighting, to name a few things. Does “The Kite Runner” allow you to flex your many muscles? 

ZMORROD: Very much. Playing multiple roles is always fun for an actor – we like malleability. Also, there are instruments on stage. I like working with the singing bowl; it’s usually used in yoga as a soothing sound, but here we save it for the dramatic, uncomfortable moments. I also sing from offstage. 

We are creating the world of the play on a very minimal set. Oh, and we do kite flying. So yeah, lots of challenges. It’s great. 

BLADE: It sounds like you’re in a good place both professionally and personally.

ZMORROD: It’s taken a long time to feel comfortable. But I’m on the journey and excited to be where I am, and who I am. 

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