World Premiere of Black Pearl Sings Tugs at Roots of Folk Music, in Houston

News   World Premiere of Black Pearl Sings Tugs at Roots of Folk Music, in Houston
The 29th season of Stages Repertory Theatre in Houston, TX, features the world premiere drama with music, Black Pearl Sings, by Frank Higgins, Oct. 17-Nov. 4.

Directed by Brad Dalton, the 1930s-set play (officially opening Oct. 19) concerns Susannah, a "song collector" for the Library of Congress, who encounters Pearl in a Texas prison. The two-actress play features Susan O. Koozin as Susannah and Alice Gatling as Pearl.

"Descended from slaves, Pearl is a living library of forgotten folk songs and looks like Susannah's ticket to fame and fortune," according to production notes. "But Pearl has plans of her own, and she uses her songs as currency to negotiate her family's future. Powerful, honest and wryly funny, this world premiere play traces the little-known roots of many beloved American songs."

Sound design and musical direction are by Chris Bakos.

Playwright Higgins was in residence at Stages for the first few rehearsals and again for the final rehearsals and opening week.

The play reunites veteran director Brad Dalton (The Great American Trailer Park Musical, An American Brat, Nickel & Dimed, The Spitfire Grill) with actresses Gatling (Nickel & Dimed) and Koozin (The Great American Trailer Park Musical, Nickel & Dimed, Always...Patsy Cline). Black Pearl Sings runs in Stages' Yeager Theater.

Black Pearl Sings was part of the Barter Theatre in Virginia's summer 2006 Southern New Play Festival. Frank Higgins is the author of Gunplay, Miracles, Lover's Leap, Never Say Die, WMKS: Where Music Kills Sorrow and The Taste Test, as well as How Anansi the Spider Came to America, a play for young audiences presented in Stages' EarlyStages series in 2004 and 2005.

The Stages creative team for Black Pearl Sings includes Jody Bobrovsky (scenic and costume design) and David Gipson (lighting design).

Stages producing artistic director Kenn McLaughlin stated, "We're thrilled at the opportunity to present the world premiere of this incredible play that not only reveals the authentic origins of some of our most beloved music but also raises questions about how cultural traditions can be manipulated and exploited."

According to Higgins, the play is loosely based on the true story of folk/blues musician Hudy William Ledbetter (better known as Leadbelly) and his relationship with the musicologists John and Alan Lomax. Higgins also was influenced by a documentary called "The Language You Cry In," which traces the journey of an obscure African folk song that traveled to America when Africans were brought here as slaves.

"I'm interested in the tension that exists between preserving cultural things and the exploitation of those things," Higgins said in production notes. "And, always, I'm interested in the power of music and songs, and telling stories that make up the mosaic of America."

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The 2007-08 season is the inaugural season for Kenn McLaughlin, the new producing artistic director of Stages Repertory Theatre, a resident Equity company.

McLaughlin was named producing artistic director in January 2007 following six years as the theatre's managing director.

The 2007-08 Stages season will also include Stephen Temperley's Souvenir, directed by Mark Ramont; the musical Altar Boyz by Kevin Del Aguila (book) and Gary Adler & Michael Patrick Walker (music and lyrics), directed by Scott Thompson; the regional premieres of two plays by Craig Wright — The Unseen, directed by Brad Dalton, and Lady, directed by Leslie Swackhamer; Richard Dresser's Rounding Third, directed by Kenn McLaughlin; and the Houston premiere of Noah Haidle's Mr. Marmalade, directed by Alex Harvey.

In addition to its MainStage season of plays, Stages Repertory Theatre presents the EarlyStages series, introducing young audiences to the power and magic of live theatre.

Stages also offers a range of additional education and outreach programs that "encourage conversation about important ideas and issues, provide insight into other cultures and viewpoints, and help develop each new generation of citizens, artists and audiences."

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