Tony, Emmy, and Grammy winner Billy Porter (Kinky Boots) has joined the producing team led by Steven Tabakin for Pittsburgh Public Theater's world premiere of the new musical Billy Strayhorn: Something to Live For, which will play the O'Reilly Theater September 19-October 8. The musical charts the life of openly gay jazz innovator and activist Billy Strayhorn and his collaborations with Duke Ellington, including “Take the ‘A’ Train” and “Lush Life.”
Porter, who was one of the producers of the Tony-winning A Strange Loop, says, “People don't know or appreciate who Billy Strayhorn was. He was an accomplished musical genius and an openly gay Black man back in the day. His story needs to be told, and Darius de Haas is the perfect person to bring Strayhorn to life. This new musical, under the inspired direction of Kent Gash, deserves to have its world premiere in Pittsburgh where Strayhorn first discovered his love of music. I am proud to be a producer on this thrilling musical that finally tells his personal story.”
Directed by Gash (Paradise Blue), the cast will be led by Obie winner de Haas (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Running Man) as Strayhorn and J.D. Mollison (Les Miserables) as Duke Ellington with Charl Brown (Motown: The Musical) as Aaron Bridgers, Keziah John-Paul (The Book of Mormon) as Lillian Strayhorn and Ivie Anderson, Arielle Roberts as Lena Horne and Billie Holiday, Richard McBride as Mercer Ellington, and Joseph McGranaghan as Lennie Hayton.
Ensemble members include Saige Smith and Joseph Fedore plus concert dancers Tracy Dunbar and Taylor Collier.
The new jazz musical, which launches the Pittsburgh Public Theater's 2023-2024 season, is written by Rob Zellers (The Chief) with Gash. It features music and lyrics by Strayhorn, plus a nine-piece jazz band led by Matthew Whitaker.
“This is a Pittsburgh origins story that not many people are aware of,” Zellers said in an earlier statement. “Strayhorn’s life began in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh. His gift for composing, arranging, and performing jazz took him from Westinghouse High School to New York City at the pinnacle of American jazz music. Despite his decades-long partnership with Duke Ellington where he wrote music and lyrics for some of the band's best known work, he never received the recognition he rightly deserved.”
The creative team also includes choreographer Dell Howlett, scenic designer Jason Sherwood, lighting designer Rui Rita, costume designer Jahise LeBouef, projections designer Shawn Duan, sound designer Zach Moore, fight director José Pérez IV, and hair and wig designer Tenel Dorsey.
Arrangements are by musical director Matthew Whitaker, who also conducts and plays piano and organ, with orchestrations by Tony winner Bruce Coughlin.
Heather Ankley is the stage manager, Ellie Handel is the assistant stage manager, and Marty Ashby is the orchestra personnel manager.
Billy Strayhorn: Something to Live For is presented by special arrangement with Swee Pea LLC.
Tickets are available by clicking here.