Billy Porter Joins Producing Team for World Premiere of Billy Strayhorn: Something to Live For Musical

Tony, Emmy, and Grammy winner Billy Porter (Kinky Boots) has joined the producing team led by Steven Tabakin for Pittsburgh’s Public Theatre’s world premiere of the new musical Billy Strayhorn: Something to Live For, which will play the O’Reilly Theater September 19th thru October 8th. 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.”

The new jazz musical, which launches the Pittsburgh Public Theater’s 2023-2024 season, is written by Rob Zellars (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.”

Directed by Gash (Paradise Blue), the cast will be led by Obie winner de Haas (The Marvelous Mrs. MaiselRunning 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.

Photo of Billy Porter by Meredith Truax.