Midtown Direct Rep

Midtown Direct Rep

Midtown Direct Rep (MDR) launches its 2017-18 reading series, Theater at The Woodland, with a free presentation of SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR, a new play with music, written by Rob Zellers, directed by Billy Porter, with music supervision by Zane Mark and musical direction by Darryl Ivey. This event will be performed for one night only on Monday, October 2nd at 7:30pm at ­­­­­­The Woodland (60 Woodland Rd, Maplewood, NJ), where MDR is the resident theater company. The reading is free but reservations are required. Free General Admission Tickets can be reserved online through Eventbrite, by clicking here.

The cast will feature Billy Porter (Kinky Boots) as Billy Strayhorn; Renée Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton) as vocalists, including 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 Stage Manager.

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

Click Here To Reserve Tickets

“It’s a thrill for us be 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.” MDR Board Chair, Ondine Landa Abramson

“A new work featuring such highly respected theater professionals is custom made for the sensibilities of this community and wouldn’t be possible without the collaborative efforts of the Township and MDR.”  Maplewood Office of Cultural Affairs Manager Andrew Fishman

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

About the play

Something to Live For tracks the extraordinary life, music and legacy of Billy Strayhorn, an often-overlooked giant in the history of jazz. His too- short life was filled with beauty and richness — from his youth in poverty in Pittsburgh, through the fateful first meeting with Duke Ellington, the turmoil and triumphs of the Civil Rights movement, the challenge of living in his era as an openly gay black man, and his struggles to forge a career and a legacy as a composer.

About Billy Strayhorn

Billy Strayhorn was born in Dayton, Ohio on November 29, 1915. His family soon moved to the Homewood section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While still in grade school, he worked odd jobs to earn enough money to buy a used piano. While in high school, he played first piano in the school orchestra, studying under the same teacher, Carl McVicker, who also instructed pianists Erroll Garner, Mary Lou Williams, and Ahmad Jamal.

Though classical music was Strayhorn’s first love, his ambition to become a classical composer was shot down by the harsh reality of a black man trying to make it in the classical world, which at that time was almost completely white. In his late teens, Strayhorn was introduced to the music of jazz musicians like Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson, began work on a musical Fantastic Rhythm, and founded a mixed race jazz combo called the Mad Hatters that played jazz clubs all around Pittsburgh.

Strayhorn met Duke Ellington in December 1938, between matinees of an Ellington appearance in Pittsburgh. After a quick backstage tryout, Ellington arranged for Strayhorn to join his orchestra when the band returned to New York.

The Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn partnership enjoyed remarkable success from the mid 1930s through mid 1960s, including such Strayhorn compositions as “Day Dream,” “After All,” “Satin Doll,” “Something to Live For,” “Johnny Come Lately,” “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “Chelsea Bridge” and “Lush Life.” Despite their strikingly different backgrounds, sensibilities and styles, Strayhorn and Ellington were at the forefront of jazz and popular music until Strayhorn’s untimely death in 1967 at the age of 51.

About the playwright – Rob Zellers

Rob Zellers’ plays have been developed at Pittsburgh Public Theater, Pittsburgh Playhouse, Urban Stages, Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey, Cincinnati Playhouse, The Lark, PlayPenn, New Harmony Project, Youngstown Playhouse, Accessible Theatre Company of Boston, and Carnegie Mellon and Wake Forest Universities. He is co-author of The Chief, the most successful play in Pittsburgh Public Theater’s history, published by University of Pittsburgh Press and made into a feature film. Other plays: Harry’s Friendly Service, premiered Pittsburgh Public Theater 2009, Edgerton Award; Mr. Wheeler’s, premiered Pioneer Theatre Company’s 2015 Play-by-Play Series. Currently in development: Smokey Hollow, Safekeeping, and The Happiness They Seek. Rob is the recipient of Pittsburgh’s Tapestry Award in the Arts, Pittsburgh New Works Lifetime Achievement Award, and proud member of The Dramatists Guild.

About the director – Billy Porter

Billy is a Tony Award, Grammy Award, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award-winner for Best Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Lola in the Tony Award-winning Best Musical Kinky Boots. Recent television and film credits include The Get Down, The Humbling, Law & Order SVU. His solo recordings include: Untitled (A&M Records), At The Corner Of Broadway and Soul, Billy’s Back On Broadway and Billy Porter Presents: “Soul Of Rogers.” He is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and UCLA (screenwriting). His play While I Yet Live had its premiere Off-Broadway in Fall 2014. Some directing credits include: Being Alive, Rent (associate, Off-Broadway), The Colored Museum, TopDog/UnderDog, The Wiz, Once On This Island (NAACP Award). Billy holds an honorary doctorate from Washington & Jefferson College.

About Theater at The Woodland
Midtown Direct Rep’s Theater at The Woodland is a series of readings of new plays and musicals in development, presented at The Woodland, right in the center of Maplewood Village. The readings include lively post-show discussions with the cast and creative team, fostering a fun and collaborative environment that allows the audience to be a part of the development of vital new works. Many of the works presented by this reading series have gone on to major productions off-Broadway, in regional theaters, and beyond.

Midtown Direct Rep (MDR) is excited to continue its partnership with the Township of Maplewood, presenting its staged readings and other productions as the resident theater company of The Woodland (60 Woodland Rd. in Maplewood, NJ). MDR’s reading series, “Theater at The Woodland,” takes place in the Parlor, and larger productions, such as the well-known annual event Listen To Your Mother, are held in the Great Hall.


Managing Director
Aliza Wassner

Artistic Producer
Steven Tabakin

Literary Manager
Marni Raab

Artistic Advisor
Sandy Rustin

Resident Casting Director
Gayle Seay

Ondine Landa Abramson (Chair)
Paul Bartick
Evan Fleischer
Matthew Lefferts
Budd Mishkin

Chair of Membership Committee
Vanessa Pollock

Emeritus Artistic Directors
Jeremy Dobrish
Sandy Rustin


Hawley Abelow
Rick Adams
Maki Amemiya
Sebastian Arcelus
Jenny Bacon
Stephen Barker Turner
Julie Barnes
Emily Bauer
Jeremy Beck
Robbie Berry
Jessamyn Blakeslee
Stephanie J. Block
Eli Bolin
Ron Bohmer
D.B. Bonds
Catherine Brunell
Norbert Leo Butz
Julie Campbell
Kristin Carbone
Matt Castle
Mindy Catron
Miguel Cervantes
Doreen Chila
Dwayne Clark
Janeece Freeman Clark
John Cramer
Amy Merlino Coey
Brian Corrigan
Natalie Cortez
Adam Dannheisser
Diane Davis
Kate Dawson
Joel de la Fuente
Bradley Dean
Jeremy Dobrish
Bob Dusold
Maria Eberline
Michelle Federer
Vadim Feichtner
Danielle Ferland
Jim Ferris
Evan Fleischer
Kate Fodor
George Forbes
Dina Friedler
Frank Galgano
Maury Ginsberg
Heather Fine Grinspan
Mitch Greenberg
Mandy Gonzalez
Becky Gulsvig
Jenny Turner Hall
Julia Haubner
David Hess
Joan Hess
Suzanne Hevner
Steve Hogle
Stacey Todd Holt
Lily Hung
Casey Hushion
David Josefsberg
Kevin Kern
Marc Kessler
Kevin Kraft
Garth Kravits
Leslie Kritzer
Stephanie Kurtzuba
Jeff Larkin
Jamie Laverdiere
Megan Lawrence
Aaron Lazar
Mark Ledbetter
John Leone
Erin Maguire
Beth McCourt
Sean McCourt
Scott McGowan
Adrienne McKeown
Christiane Noll
Gregory Omar Osborne
Bethany Pettigrew
Jeff Parvin
Vanessa Parvin
Michele Pawk
Michael Perilstein
Christoper Mark Peterson
Charlie Pollock
Allison Posner
Vanessa Pollock
Marni Raab
Richard Rauscher
Matt Ramsey
Holly Raye
Chuck Rea
Peter Reader
Nikki Rene
Josephine Roberts
Roger Rosen
Emily Rozek
Sandy Rustin
Gayle Seay
Scott Seay
Matt Servitto
Robert Shaffron
Bev Sheehan
Abby Sher
Matthew Shepard Smith
Jeffrey Shubart
Corey Skaggs
David Spangenthal
Michael St. John
Cat Tate Starmer
Molly Stuart
John Steber
Ben Steinfeld
Antonio Suarez
Steven Tabakin
Michelle Tattenbaum
Jen Taylor
Marcy Thompson
Nicole Van Giesen
Elizabeth Ward Land
Tim Welch
Elizabeth Welch
LaVon Fisher Wilson
Terrence Witter
Denise Payne Worley
Kevin Worley
Matt Yeager
Joanna Young
Meg Zervoulis

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