Preview Performances: March 9- March 13
Black Pearl Sings!
by Frank Higgins
Tuesday, March 13 - Saturday, April 7
"...good music knows no prejudice and requires little translation" -- Jerome Langston, VEER magazine
Albany, NY – February 20, 2012– The gusty March winds and anticipated flowering of Spring will be accompanied this year by the soulful refrains of folk songs and slave spirituals at Albany’s Capital Repertory Theatre as playwright Frank Higgins' BLACK PEARL SINGS! holds full sway over audiences from Friday, March 9 and until April 7.
Those with a love for Capital Rep’s signature Seriously Good Theatre series won’t want to miss this uplifting dramatic tale of two very different women -- each on her own journey toward happiness -- and the friendship that unites and guides them.
Capital Rep’s Producing Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill is quick to share her excitement about BLACK PEARL SINGS! "I like this play; it is so engaging even as it sheds light on a little-known aspect of American history through this dramatic story of two women who help and bolster one another through their shared pursuit of music.
"During the Great Depression, the WPA created jobs for artists and teachers who went out and collected the music of America. Song catchers were charged to go deep into pockets of the country dragging unwieldy recorders up mountainsides, down valleys and behind prison walls in the pursuit of ‘American’ song. Ironically, by putting artists to work, the Depression gave us the greatest legacy of the arts in our history. The government was interested in creating jobs, not in art for art's sake -- but the result was the written acknowledgment of many of the ethnic influences that make up American music.
Intelligent, Riveting Theatre
BLACK PEARL SINGS! is a story that sweeps audiences into its unfolding until its final lines.
Imprisoned for murder, Alberta "Pearl" Johnson is the living storehouse of songs passed down from her African-American ancestors. When Library of Congress song collector Susannah Mullally finds her, Pearl must decide whether to entrust the woman not only with the songs of her ancestors, but with her only chance at freedom. The women's stirring a capella songs touch the soul, as will the story of two strangers united by a common love.
Jannie Jones, who delighted audiences in Capital Rep’s production of Crowns last season is featured in the role of Pearl. Last on the Capital Rep Boards for Boston Marriage, Jessica Wortham will perform the role of Susannah.
"It's wonderful to have both actresses in BLACK PEARL SINGS! back at Capital Rep, said Ms. Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill: “Jessica Wortham was so memorable in Boston Marriage and Jannie Jones brought the house down every night in Crowns with her rendition of Eye of the Sparrow. It’s what she does: sings her heart out.”
The unfolding story Includes renditions of old field songs, early blues, spirituals and gutbucket blues. These vocal artifacts remind us that music has the power to help heal in the struggle between out collective past and our desire for individual histories.
Songs include "This Little Light of Mine," "Kum Ba Yah," "Little Sally Walker" and more, most performed in their original folk versions. At one point in the show, the audience is invited to sing along.
Playwright Higgins emphasizes that BLACK PEARL SINGS!is very much "a play with music," not a musical. In fact, the songs are performed without accompaniment. The only musical instrument, other than the human voice, is an autoharp.
About the Playwright
Frank Higgins is the author of The Sweet By ‘n’ By, which was produced with Blythe Danner and Gwyneth Paltrow. His play BLACK PEARL SINGS! has been one of the most produced plays in the country over the past two seasons, and several scenes from his play Gunplay were read on Capitol Hill prior to Congress’ passage of the “Brady Bill.” Mr. Higgins’ play Miracles has been produced at major regional theatres and was optioned for Broadway, while his musical play WMKS: Where Music Kills Sorrow has also run at major regional theatres. Plays for young audiences includeThe Slave Dancer’s Choice, Anansi the Spider and the Middle Passage, as well as The Country of the Blind, an adaptation of the short story by H.G. Wells. Mr. Higgins teaches at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America.
According to Higgins, “[I] first became interested in the old folk songs and ballads when I traveled through the Appalachian Mountains.
"I've always been fascinated by what is authentic and what isn't. Is there a tendency that many people of all backgrounds have to romanticize their cultural past and the pasts of others? The question of finding the true roots of a culture is a mystery as complicated as any."
Higgins said that Pearl is a fictional character inspired by the real-life story of blues legend Huddie (Lead Belly) Ledbetter. Lead Belly was in prison, too, and became famous when he was discovered and promoted by John and Alan Lomax, father-and-son folk-music collectors.
The main reason Higgins switched genders is because "women are the matriarchs of any culture. They are the ones who sang the songs to the children," he said.
"Women are more likely to carry on the songs of a culture."
Running Time: 2 Hours 15 min
BLACK PEARL SINGS! is a co-production with Virginia Stage Company in Norfolk, VA., Following a run at VSC,the cast and creative team, led by Director Patrick Mullins, will travel to Albany and produce the show from March 9 to April 7, 2012.
BLACK PEARL SINGS! received its first workshop production at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, VA in 2006 prior to its 2007 premiere in Houston. It has become a favorite at theaters around the country, including Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C.
Capital Rep Special Events for BLACK PEARL SINGS!
Opening Night: Tuesday, March 13th
• Pre-Show- Live Music entertainment with special guest and area gospel singer, Ms. Shereen Moore
• Post Show Reception- Dessert and Champagne Toast - Following the show in the café, join us for an introduction by Capital Repertory Producing Artistic Director, Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill of the cast and company.
Chef's Table Night hosted by 677 Prime - Tuesday, March 20th one of the most popular nights at Capital Repertory Theatre, where downtown Albany restaurants provide a marvelous spread of their cuisine. This night also provides live music entertainment with a pre-show live performance in the lobby.
Discussion Nights- Wednesday, March 21 and Wednesday, March 28 a post-show discussion with the cast.
Behind-The-Scenes with Maggie- Sunday, April 1st, a pre-show discussion with Producing Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill and special guest. Continental breakfast with juice and coffee is provided.
Early Bird Previews- Friday, March 9, Saturday, March 10 and Sunday, March 11 Be among the first to see each play before it is reviewed by the press.
On Sale Now!
Tickets prices to Black Pearl Sings! are:
- WEEKENDS: $20, $40, $50 &, $60
- WEEKDAYS: $20, $30, $40 & $50
- STUDENTS: $16 (WITH ID)
Three ways to buy tickets
1. In person at the Tickets by Proctors Box Office (432 State St., Schenectady, NY 12305)
- Mon – Fri: 10am – 6pm
- Sat – Sun: 10am – 5pm
- Or at the Capital Rep Box Office 2 hours prior to each show
2. On the phone, call Tickets by Proctors (518) 445-SHOW
- Mon – Fri: 10am – 6pm
- Sat – Sun: 10am – 5pm
3. Online at www.capitalrep.org
JANNIE JONES (Pearl) appeared in Capital Rep’s production of Crowns last season. She recently received critical acclaim for her performance in Hair Spray as Motomouth at the NC Theatre, Juneteenth Legacy Theatre’s August Wilison’s Women, which garnered her an Audelco Award and for BLACK PEARL SINGS! at San Jose Repertory Company for which she recently won a Bay Area Theatre Critics Award for Best Actress. She has also received critical acclaim for her role of Sylvia in the National Broadway tour of All Shook Up. Her Broadway and off Broadway credits include The Full Monty, Mama I Want To Sing and Faith’s Journey.
Other credits include Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope (NC Black Rep), Crowns (Cincinnati Playhouse & Repertory Theatre of St. Louis) Grafton City Blues (Milwaukee Rep) Beehive (Arkansas Rep), Hair (as Dionne), Steppin’ Out (music of Irving Berline), Too Darn Hot (music of Cole Porter), All Night Strut, It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues and Motown Cabaret (Florida Studio Theatre) and Ain’t Misbehavin (The Riverside Theatre). Jannie has toured nationally and internationally to more than 23 countries.
Her television credits includes daytime soaps operas: All My Children and The Guiding Light, Sitcoms: Martin & Sinbad and commercials and print modeling. She has performed the concert version of Kiss Me Kate with the Staten Island Philharmonic Orchestra and in concert at Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden with famed Spanish legend Raphael. She can be heard on Teddy Pendergras’ lastest release, Say It and on the last hit CD of the late, great Barry White in Practice What You Preach.
JESSICA WORTHAM(Susannah) is thrilled to be making her Capital Repertory Theatre debut. Regional Theatre credits include Black Pearl Sings! at San Jose Repertory Theater (Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award); David Mamet’s Boston Marriage at Capital Repertory Theater; The Ruby Sunrise, Merry Wives of Windsor and A Christmas Carol at Trinity Repertory Company; Crime and Punishment, Twelfth Night, A Christmas Story, Dracula, and the Humana Festival premieres of The Ruby Sunrise, No. 11 (Blue and White) and Back Story, all for Actors Theatre of Louisville.
Her New York theatre credits include Green Girl and On The Threshold at the Public Theater; Bone Portraits at Soho Rep/Walkerspace. Internationally, she has appeared in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the English Theatre Frankfurt and Crimes of the Heart at Vienna’s English Theatre.
Ms. Wortham holds an MFA from Brown University and is a proud graduate of Centre College.
ABOUT CAPITAL REP
Capital Repertory Theatre has a rich, local history of excellent entertainment and strong community relationships. Established in 1981, it came into existence through the dedication and perseverance of a group of Albany business, community and civic leaders. Donated labor, materials and expertise transformed the Grand Cash Market, an abandoned supermarket at 111 North Pearl Street, into what was to become the home of Albany's first professional resident theatre.
Outreach was made to The League of Theatre Artists, a group of diverse actors, directors and playwrights, who spent summers at Art Awareness in Lexington, New York. Working together, these artists, community leaders and an army of volunteers founded Capital Repertory Company. This initial investment of time and resources created what is now the highly acclaimed, award-winning Capital Repertory Theatre with an annual operating budget of $2.3 million, and a history of producing more than 5,000 performances employing more than 1,500 professional artists.
In the past 30 years, the facility on North Pearl Street has been renovated several times, and now includes a 286-seat theatre, a café space, a costume-making shop, and a rehearsal hall. In addition to returning more than 83% of its operating budget directly back to the local community, Capital Rep brings vitality and commerce to downtown in the form of more than 75,000 diners, shoppers, and tourists, serving as an economic engine in the entertainment district on North Pearl Street.
At the core of Capital Repertory Theatre's mission is "to create meaningful theatre with an authentic connection to the community we serve" in pursuit of these goals:
- to provide significant, high-quality theatre for all people of the Capital Region,
- to ensure that every student in the 14-county Capital Region experiences live theatre before high school graduation,
- to take a leadership role in defining New York's Upper Hudson-Mohawk Valley as a cultural destination point, and
- to make Capital Repertory Theatre synonymous with quality in every aspect of the organization: actors, productions, education programs, customer service, and civic leadership.
In all programs and services, Capital Repertory Theatre reflects its mission by embracing its community as a source of inspiration. Capital Rep embraces cast, crew and audiences from every background to expand the horizons of thought and understanding of the human condition through the power of theatre.
Capital Repertory Theatre is a professional, not-for-profit cultural organization, and the only member of the League of Resident Theatres (LORT) within fourteen counties of the Upper Hudson-Mohawk ValleyAs a proud member of LORT, an esteemed organization that promotes the positive impact of theatres in the arts and communities nationwide, Capital Rep is able to create excellent opportunities for both up-and-coming and seasoned theatre professionals. Today, these affiliated theatres provide artists with a support system for developing new work, as well as reviving classics and perennial favorites. LORT members strive to provide hundreds of thousands of people with the opportunity to experience the highest caliber of performance right in their own communities. For more information about LORT, please visit http://www.lort.org/.
Capital Repertory Theatre receives general support from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA), celebrating 50 years of building strong, creative communities in New York State's 62 counties.
- BLACK PEARL SINGS, indeed-
The search for the soul of America's hidden African roots takes Susannah an ethnomusicologist, to a Texas prison where she encounters Albertina "Pearl" Johnson.
Imprisoned for a crime of passion, Pearl is a living album of folk songs and spirituals passed down from her African American ancestors and their slave era past. She must decide whether to trust the white Susannah with her invaluable songs and with her only chance at freedom.
Pearl's stirring voice will touch your heart as will this story of complete strangers united by a common love.