Geva Theatre Center’s 2014 Fielding Studio Series kicks off with Black Pearl Sings! by Frank Higgins. This production comes to Geva from The Kitchen Theatre Company in Ithaca and is directed by Sara Lampert Hoover. The production begins performances on January 23 and runs in the Fielding Nextstage through February 9.
Music unites strangers and bridges racial divisions in this powerful story. It’s 1935 and an ambitious song collector for the Library of Congress visits a Texas prison where she meets Pearl, an African-American woman with a soulful voice and steely spirit. The play features over 20 a cappella renditions of American folk and spiritual songs.
Frank Higgins is the playwright of The Sweet By ‘n’ By which was produced with Blythe Danner and Gwyneth Paltrow. His other plays include WMKS: Where Music Kills Sorrow, Gunplay, and Miracles, and several plays for young audiences including Anansi the Spider and The Middle Passage and The Country of the Blind. His plays have been seen at the Old Globe Theatre, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., Kansas City Repertory Theatre, The Barter Theatre, Florida Studio Theatre, Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Inter-Act Theater, Sacramento Theatre Company, and others. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a member of the Dramatists Guild.
When Portland Center Stage produced Black Pearl Sings! in 2012, they posted a great interview on their blog – check it out!
Black Pearl Sings! is based on the real-life relationship between legendary singer/guitarist Huddie William Ledbetter, (better known as “Lead Belly”) and Harvard folk musicologist John Lomax, who helped petition for Ledbetter’s release from prison, and later became his manager. Since its’ 2007 world premiere at Stages Repertory in Houston, Black Pearl Sings! has been produced at theatres nationwide.
Emily Dorsch plays musicologist Susannah Mullally and is making her Geva Theatre Center debut. Ms. Dorsch has appeared on and off Broadway in In the Next Room at Lincoln Center Theatre, A Man for All Seasons at Roundabout Theatre Company and in Love, Loss and What I Wore at the Westside Theatre and on tour. Lisa Gaye Dixon is also making her Geva Theatre Center debut in the role of Alberta “Pearl” Johnson. Ms. Dixon has appeared at Steppenwolf Theatre Company and with the RSC and the Globe Theatre in London.
Black Pearl Sings! begins performances on January 23 and runs in the Fielding Nextstage through February 9.
The 2014 Fielding Studio Series is supported in part by the Gouvernet Arts Fund at The Community Foundation. Black Pearl Sings! is part of Geva’s “Theatre and Race: A Community Conversation,” which is made possible with support from The New York State Council on the Arts, with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.