#13. Music influences. It tells a story of the time period. Ancestors preserved family-lore by putting it to a tune. Generations of folks grew up singing what their mother sang to them. Which was what her mother sang to her.... and on back. The personal oral history connects the present to the past. My mother sang songs of sentimental importance too. We all have a kid soundtrack. Everyone hears a song that pulls them back in time. The music of my childhood is Rodgers and Hammerstein meets Peter, Paul and Mary with a side of Doris Day.
Northlight Theatre presents BLACK PEARL SINGS!. Susannah is a collector of songs. During the Depression era, she is trying to establish her credentials as a folklore scholar. While visiting a Texas prison, she discovers a ‘homicidal harmonizer.‘ Pearl has plenty of original songs. She also has a daughter missing. Pearl barters with Susannah. She’ll sing if Susannah will find her daughter. They both want something. The pact is established. As Pearl sings about her life, the women negotiate more than they bargained for. BLACK PEARL SINGS! is a beautiful and complex song of friendship.
Playwright Frank Higgins creates two very different and strong-minded women. They deal with issues of race, economic status, religion, and incarceration. Their banter is a give and take arbitration right into the finale. Based on the real-life story of musicologist John Avery Loman and guitarist Huddie ‘Lead Belly’ Ledbetter, Higgins’ foundation is fertile ground for an unusual friendship. Director Steve Scott orchestrates real beauty from these agitated women. E. Faye Butler gives a phenomenal performance. She transforms from the bitter old ball and chain to desperate mother to animated songstress. Her singing range is equally impressive as she soulfully and acoustically belts out the compelling songs of her origins. As the buttoned-up, stuck-up, white woman, Susie McMonagle plays the do-gooder with an escalating sense of self awareness and humor. With a robust Butler commanding the stage, McMonagle plays it wonderfully understated. Her gestures of intimacy are small but poignant. When Butler and McMonagle hold hands, I get a little misty.
Scenic Designer Jack Magaw and Lighting Designer Sarah Hughey transform Texas prison to Greenwich Village to Hilton Head with moving walls and vibrant backdrops. For a surreal finale, Butler sings and dances into the sunset. Gorgeous! BLACK PEARL SINGS! like no other! It’s a smooth, shiny gem that is made precious by the vocal stylings of E. Faye Butler.
Production photograph courtesy of Starbelly Studios.
Running Time: Two hours and fifteen minutes includes an intermission.
At Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie
Written by Frank Higgins
Directed by Steve Scott
Wednesdays at 1pm
Wednesdays, Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm
Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30pm
Sundays at 7pm
Buy Tickets at www.northlight.org