‘Sugar Hill—The Ellington/Strayhorn Nutcracker’ to premiere in Pittsburgh

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.