BY ANDREW GANS

SEP 08, 2017

Porter will also direct the reading of the new play with music, which features Goldsberry as a series of music icons.

Renée Elise Goldsberry Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Midtown Direct Rep (MDR) will launch its 2017–2018 reading series, Theater at The Woodland, with a free presentation of Something to Live For October 2 at 7:30 PM at New Jersey’s The Woodland.

Billy Porter

Billy Porter

Written by Rob Zellers, the new play with music will be directed by Billy Porter, with music supervision by Zane Mark and musical direction by Darryl Ivey.

The cast will feature Tony winner Porter (Kinky Boots) as Billy Strayhorn; Tony winner Renée Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton) as vocalists Lena Horn, Sarah Vaughan, and Billie Holiday; Norm Lewis (Porgy & Bess) as Duke Ellington; Nathan Darrow (House of Cards) as Jazz drummer Mickey Scrima; Matthew J. Harris as pianist Aaron Bridgers; with Brian Dykstra reading stage directions. Terrence Witter is the stage manager.

The staged reading will be followed by a discussion with members of the creative team.

Renée Elise Goldsberry

“It’s a thrill for us to bring such an exciting new work to open our second season in residence at The Woodland. We are delighted that, through our wonderful partnership with Maplewood Township, we can offer this special reading, with a spectacular creative team and cast, as a free event, open to the entire MAPSO community. It’s a great way to continue to build our audience, introducing more and more folks to what makes MDR such a unique and vibrant arts organization,” said MDR Board Chair Ondine Landa Abramson in a statement.

Something to Live For is presented by special arrangement with producer Steven Tabakin, a Midtown Direct Rep company member and its Artistic Producer.

The staged reading is free, but reservations are required. Free General Admission tickets can be reserved by clicking here.

Something to Live For will also be presented for invited members of the industry October 3 at 3 PM at Second Stage Theater’s studio (305 West 43rd Street, 3rd Floor). Inquiries and invitation requests can be directed to steven@tabakin.media.

SHARON EBERSON
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
seberson@post-gazette.com
4:59 PM
SEP 8, 2017

An all-star Broadway team with Tony Award-winners Billy Porter and Renee Elise Goldsberry and Tony nominee Norm Lewis will gather Oct. 2and 3 for readings in New Jersey and New York of “Something to Live For,” a biographical play about Pittsburgh jazz great Billy Strayhorn, written by Rob Zellers.

Pittsburgher Zellers is co-writer of “The Chief,” a solo play about Art Rooney Sr., and “Harry’s Family Service,” both of which debuted at Pittsburgh Public Theater. He had been its longtime director of education and left the Public to pursue writing projects. Zellers found a path to Strayhorn two years ago when he was reviewing a Duke Ellington biography for the Post-Gazette.
Mr. Lewis (“The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess”; “Phantom of the Opera”) will portray Ellington for the reading. Mr. Porter, the Pittsburgh native who recently performed in two concerts in his hometown, is directing and will portray Strayhorn. Ms. Goldsberry, a Tony winner for “Hamilton” and, like Mr. Porter, a Carnegie Mellon graduate, will portray a parade of singers, including Ellington band vocalist Ivie Anderson, Sarah Vaughan, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday and Mahalia Jackson.

 

“There was a big section in the book about Billy Strayhorn. Since then I’ve read volumes, whatever I could get my hands on,” Mr. Zellers said by phone Friday. One helpful discovery was that Strayhorn’s lyrics were mostly autobiographical, which fits nicely into the play’s narrative. “Something to Live For” covers “pretty much his life,” said Mr. Zellers, through Strayhorn’s graduation from Westinghouse High School to his move to New York and his death “all too young” from esophageal cancer, at age 51. “I believe Lena Horne was his great love,” Mr. Zellers said. “He was a gay black man in the middle of the 20th century, and in jazz, which was sort of a macho field, but Lena Horne was his soul mate. His beloved mentor was Duke Ellington, and his other great love was the pianist Aaron Bridgers.” Nathan Darrow (“House of Cards”) will appear as drummer Mickey Scrima and Matthew J. Harris as pianist Bridgers.

The reading Oct. 2 is part of a free series at Theater at The Woodland in New Jersey. The next day’s presentation is for invited members of the industry at New York City’s Second Stage Theater.