‘Billy Strayhorn: Something to Live For’ at The Public (Tues., 9/19/23)
One of the hottest tickets of the new theater season is a show that expands on a seemingly simple question: Who was Billy Strayhorn? Many Pittsburghers know that Strayhorn came out of the city’s Homewood neighborhood in the 1930s to carve a distinguished career as a jazz composer and pianist until his death in 1964. But there’s much more to the story. And Billy Strayhorn: Something to Live For—a world premiere at Pittsburgh Public Theater—delivers the tale, along with generous samples of Strayhorn’s music. The show explores his long and complex collaboration with Duke Ellington. It delves into the complexities of Strayhorn’s own life as a gay man, as a confidante of other jazz luminaries—and as someone admired for his integrity and character by those who knew him.
Strayhorn was conceived by Rob Zellers (playwright of The Chief, about Art Rooney) and co-written with Kent Gash, who also directs. Gash, a Carnegie Mellon alumnus, is a New York-based director and a theater professor at NYU. Matthew Whitaker directs the music. The cast of Billy Strayhorn: Something to Live For includes Darius de Haas as Strayhorn and J.D. Mollison as Ellington. 8 p.m. Through October 11 in the O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Cultural District. (M.V.)