Producer David Garfinkle announced that the World Premiere of Sugar Hill The Ellington/Strayhorn Nutcracker, the jazz-steeped reimagining of The Nutcracker based on the genre-defying collaboration of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, will debut at Pittsburgh’s Benedum Center for the Performing Arts from October 19-30, 2022. The production will follow with a run at New York City Center (131 W 55th St.) from November 15-27, 2022. Sugar Hillis set to the timeless music of Ellington and Strayhorn and features a libretto by Jessica Swan.

This original production is directed by Emmy Award winner and Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics nominee Joshua Bergasse, with choreography by Jade Hale-Christofi.  The show features a world-renowned creative team of dance superstars, with additional choreography by Caleb Teicher and Jon Boogz, and dance consultation from ten-time Tony Award nominee Graciela Daniele and Kennedy Center Honoree Carmen de Lavallade. Orchestrations and Arrangements are by Grammy® Award-winner John Clayton and three-time Tony Award nominee Larry Blank. Dance arrangements by Mark Hummel and casting by Mungioli Theatricals, Inc.

In a shared statement, A. Alyce Claerbaut, Sugar Hill Executive Producer and niece of Billy Strayhorn, along with Mercedes Ellington, director, choreographer, producer, and familial historian, as well as granddaughter of Duke Ellington, said, “Consummate master of self-expression Duke Ellington and classically-trained, jazz genius Billy Strayhorn, took something wholly European, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, and transformed it into a story that symbolizes the American ideal — the freedom of individualism — by marrying it to jazz. There is no finer visual representation of this than through dance.”

Move over, New York City.

The New Pittsburgh Courier has learned exclusively that the world premiere of “Sugar Hill—The Ellington/Strayhorn Nutcracker,” will   debut in Pittsburgh, at the Benedum Center, from Oct. 19-30. It’s a jazz-steeped reimagining of “The Nutcracker” based on the genre-defying collaboration of the legendary Duke Ellington and Pittsburgh’s favorite son, Billy Strayhorn. “Sugar Hill” is set to the timeless music of Ellington and Strayhorn and features a libretto by Jessica Swan. “Sugar Hill” will then play in New York City at the New York City Center from Nov. 15-27. The performance is directed by Joshua Bergasse and produced by David Garfinkle.

“Premiering it in Pittsburgh is very, very important,” said A. Alyce Claerbaut, a niece of Strayhorn, in an exclusive print media interview with the Pittsburgh Courier. “(Strayhorn) and Duke partnered in 1960 to do this work (jazz album ‘The Nutcracker Suite’) and it has remained a holiday favorite. If you look every year, some orchestra’s doing it, so it’s quite an honor to have it fully developed (the performance at the Benedum) in a jazzy way.”

Strayhorn was born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1915, but his family soon moved to Pittsburgh. He attended Westinghouse High School and, according to a biography from the American Ballet Theatre, attended the Pittsburgh Musical Institute for piano lessons and classical music study. In 1938, at just 23 years old, Strayhorn met Ellington and had an impromptu audition for the famed jazz aficionado at Pittsburgh’s Stanley Theatre. Ellington was so impressed by Strayhorn’s abilities that Ellington moved Strayhorn with him to New York City, and Strayhorn began writing musical arrangements for Ellington and his band. This relationship lasted more than 25 years, which included the famous jazz album, “The Nutcracker Suite,” in 1960, for Columbia Records.

Patton hails from Columbia, Tennessee where she will be a rising Junior this fall at Columbia Central High School. She is involved in her school’s marching, concert, pep and jazz bands. Patton also takes private lessons and occasionally plays in local big band rehearsals. Playing both the trumpet and flugelhorn, Patton attended the Nashville Jazz Workshop’s Summer Jazz Set 2022 for high school students, where she was awarded the Billy Strayhorn Jazz Education Scholarship. NJW Executive Director Lori Mechem told us “Patton was truly a joy to have at our camp and we look forward to hearing her grow as a wonderful musician!”. Congrats to Patton and Nashville Jazz Workshop for the great work they continue to do through their musical nurturing of these up and coming jazz students. The Foundation also received this very nice response from Patton: “Thank you so much!! I’m incredibly honored to have been given the scholarship. The camp was amazing, and I’m very grateful I was given the means to attend.”  That’s Patton Duvall (pictured on the right) playing the flugelhorn.