Black Theater Troupe Pays Tribute To Billy Strayhorn In “Convictions”

BTT Executive Director David Hemphill stars in the one man show Convictions commemorating the centennial of composer Billy Strayhorn.                          laura durant photo

BTT Executive Director David Hemphill stars in the one man show Convictions commemorating the centennial of composer Billy Strayhorn. laura durant photo

Edited by AZI Staff

2015 marks the centennial year of musical genius Billy Strayhorn who created some of the most memorable compositions of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. To commemorate, Black Theatre Troupe is presenting a new play, Conviction, by Ben Tyler. The play runs though Sunday, February 22 at The Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center in Phoenix.

This inventive new work, directed by Anthony Runfola, stars Black Theatre Troupe Executive Director David J. Hemphill.

This one-man show, about a convict named Johnny, takes places in a prison and uses music from the Strayhorn songbook as a powerful backdrop.

Director Anthony Runfola explains, “Johnny is a former acquaintance of Strayhorn and now doing time in jail. As we explore Strayhorn and his music through the eyes of Johnny, we come to understand the duality of the word “conviction”. It can represent a firm commitment to your ideals as well as a judgment against them.”

Billy Strayhorn grew up in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh, and studied classical music at the Pittsburgh Music Institute. While still in his teens he was already composing musical theater productions as well as performing on the radio with a music trio. He is best known for his decades-long collaboration with Duke Ellington whom he first met after a concert performance in Pittsburgh.

In his autobiography, Duke Ellington eulogized Billy Strayhorn thus: “He demanded freedom of expression and lived in what we consider the most important and moral of freedoms: freedom from hate, unconditionally; Freedom from self pity (even through all the pain and bad news); freedom from fear of possibly doing something that might possibly help another more than it might himself and freedom from the kind of pride that might make a man think that he was better than his brother or his neighbor.”

For details and tickets, call the box office at 602-258-8129 or go to: www. blacktheatretroupe.org.

The Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center is located in downtown Phoenix at 1333 E. Washington St. Phoenix, 85034.

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