‘Black Pearl’ preserves history
Two actresses convey roots of American music
Jannie Jones, left, is Pearl and Jessica Wortham is Susannah in a scene from the Capital Repertory Theatre production of “Black Pearl Sings!”, which begins with previews on Friday night. (photl: Virginia Stage Company)
It was music that brought Jannie Jones and Jessica Wortham into the theater world, so in “Black Pearl Sings!,” Frank Higgins’ tribute to folk songs, slave spirituals and the 1930s, both actors feel right at home.
“I feel like this show was written for me,” said Jones, who shares the stage with Wortham in the Capital Repertory Theatre production of Higgins’ 2007 work. The show begins with previews Friday night, opens next Tuesday and runs through April 7. “This is the kind of music I was raised on. It’s exactly my style.”
In “Black Pearl Sings!,” Jones is Alberta “Pearl” Johnson, a black woman who, along with being imprisoned for murder, is a walking encyclopedia in the realm of African-American roots music. Along with her knowledge of the slave spirituals, Pearl is also a talented singer and is “discovered” by Susannah Mullally, an ethnomusicologist played by Wortham.
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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.