Two women from vastly different backgrounds are united through song in Black Pearl Sings! by Frank Higgins at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, February 11 – March 7, 2010; stage direction by Benny Sato Ambush. Performances begin Thursday, February 11 at 7:30 PM, with Opening Night on Sunday, February 14 at 7PM, running through March 7. Subscriptions and individual tickets are on sale now at www.MerrimackRep.org or by calling 978.654.4MRT.
The all-Equity cast of Black Pearl Sings! features Cherene Snow (Pearl) and Valerie Leonard (Susannah), both in their Merrimack Rep debuts. A search for lost African-American folk music leads Susannah, an ambitious “song collector” for the Library of Congress, to Pearl, a woman with a soulful voice, a steely spirit and an incredible history. After meeting Pearl in a Texas jail, Susannah is convinced Pearl may know a song rare enough to earn her a teaching job at Harvard, a post denied to her thus far because of her gender. Pearl has dreams of her own, and hopes her songs will be her ticket out of jail for a reunion with her long-lost daughter. Featuring many beloved American folk songs and spirituals – like “This Little Light of Mine”, “Troubles So Hard”, “Kum Ba Yah” and “Pay Me My Money Down” – the legacy of the past clashes with their hopes for the future, as they journey to find their way out of the shadows and into the spotlight. Black Pearls Sings! made Theatre Communication Group’s top ten list of most produced plays in America for the 2009-2010 season.
Director Benny Sato Ambush, a Distinguished Producing Director in Residence at Emerson College in Boston, also makes his Merrimack Rep debut. He has previously directed Black Pearl Sings! at Triad Stage in Greensboro, NC. Ambush states, “Frank Higgins’ Black Pearl Sings! is an engaging, thought-provoking, highly entertaining play with music in which two different people chart a road map toward understanding each other. A vibrant inter-cultural, inter-racial tale, it features twenty songs sung largely a cappella from two streams in America’s rich musical legacy: traditional southern Appalachian mountain music and a broad swath of songs from the culture of African descendants in America. I am honored to direct its New England Premiere at Merrimack Repertory Theatre – the house of intimate, excellent theatrical storytelling.”
Playwright Frank Higgins is the author of The Sweet By ‘n’ By, which was produced with Blythe Danner and Gwyneth Paltrow and Black Pearl Sings! which was produced with Tonya Pinkins. His plays have been seen in New York and at Williamstown Theatre Festival, the Old Globe Theatre, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Ford’s Theatre, Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Barter Theatre, Florida Studio Theatre, Penumbra Theatre, InterAct Theatre, Sacramento Theatre Company, and others. Among his other plays are WMKS: Where Music Kills Sorrow, Gunplay, and Miracles. He has also written several plays for young audiences, including The Slave Dancer’s Choice, Anansi the Spider and the Middle Passage, and The Country of the Blind. He teaches at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and is a member of the Dramatists Guild.
The production’s creative staff includes Benny Sato Ambush (director), Deb Newhall (costume design), Robin Vest (set design), Brian Lilienthal (lighting design) and Eugene Wolf (music director). Deb Newhall was the costume designer for Fabuloso and The Seafarer earlier this season, as well as past Merrimack Rep productions like Bad Dates, Skylight and The Pursuit of Happiness. Brian Lilienthal returns to Merrimack Rep after designing Tranced and A View of the Harbor in the 2008-2009 season. Robin Vest makes her Merrimack Rep debut, as does Eugune Wolf, who previously originated the role of Doc in another Frank Higgins play, WMKS: Where Music Kills Sorrow.
Valerie Leonard (Susannah) Merrimack Repertory Theatre: debut. Broadway: An Ideal Husband (Lady Basildon), The Odd Couple (Gwendolyn Pigeon) with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, Lend Me a Tenor (Maggie) with Barry Nelson. Off-Broadway: Signature Theatre Company, The Pearl Theatre, Mirror Repertory Company, The Directors Company, PTP NYC. Regional: A Man’s A Man, Theophilus North (world premiere), Arena Stage; Titus Andronicus (Tamora), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Titania), The Comedy of Errors (Luciana), Shakespeare Theatre Company; The Misanthrope, McCarter Theatre; The Royal Family, American Conservatory Theatre; Hedda Gabler, Two River Theatre Company; George Street Playhouse; Missouri Repertory Theatre; Pioneer Theatre; Bristol Riverside Theatre; Catalyst Theater; The Studio Theatre; Theater J; Rep Stage; Potomac Theatre Project; Olney Theatre (over 20 productions including Therese Raquin, Copenhagen, Night of the Iguana and Elephant Man). Television: Law and Order, The Wire. Education: BA, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, OR; MFA, Rutgers University.
Cherene Snow (Pearl) Merrimack Repertory Theatre: debut. Off-Broadway: Walking Down Broadway, I See Fire in the Dead Man’s Eyes (World Premiere), Brooklyn Under Construction, The Last of the Thorntons (World Premiere). Regional: Doubt, The Miracle Worker, Home, To Kill a Mockingbird, Straight as a Line (Edinburgh, Scotland), Coyote on a Fence, Flyin’ West, A Piece of My Heart, The Good Times are Killing Me (World Premiere), Playboy of the West Indies (U.S. Premiere), Othello, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Film/TV: My Sassy Girl, Goodbye Baby, City of Angels, The Long Walk Home, Out of Darkness, Law & Order, Chappelle’s Show, Third Watch, Beyond Belief, L.A. Doctors, Reasonable Doubts, Caroline in the City, The Drew Carey Show, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Education: Illinois State University.