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Gerald Carpenter: Ensemble Theatre Coaxes ‘Black Pearl’ Out of Her Shell

New production of Frank Higgins’ musical drama opens Thursday and runs through July 1

The exemplary Ensemble Theatre Company will open its new production of Frank Higgins’ musical drama, Black Pearl Sings, in the Alhecama Theater on Thursday and run through July 1.

Directed by Patrick Mullins of the Virginia Stage Company, Black Pearl Sings features the acting and singing of Jannie Jones and Jessica Wortham.

Fictional in its specific details, Black Pearl Sings is based on a firm foundation of historical fact. During the 1930s, the New Deal administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt took an activist role in supporting the artists and intellectuals of America to an unprecedented degree. Some new works were commissioned, but more appropriate — and, I think, more valuable — were the large-scale efforts to gather and catalog our rich folklore. The Library of Congress commissioned scores of dedicated researchers — of whom Alan Lomax is, perhaps, the best known — with notebooks and unwieldy, primitive tape-recorders, to gather oral histories and folk music.

The Ensemble show, which is set in Texas in 1935, concerns one such researcher, Susanna, who discovers Pearl, a veritable living encyclopedia of gospel and blues tunes, serving a life sentence in a state prison. As tune follows smashing tune, the two women discover an intense sympathy with each other and form a rare bond.

“The music of Black Pearl Sings is the music that I grew up with in rural Georgia,” Mullins said. “I find it fascinating to watch these women negotiate their hopes and dreams through music. [Jones and Wortham] have an amazing chemistry together.”

Black Pearl Sings will play at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and at 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays, with a Saturday matinee at 4 p.m. June 23. Single tickets range from $40 to $65. Discounts are available for seniors, students and groups of 10 or more. Tickets for students and young adults age 26 or younger are $20.

Subscriptions, single tickets and group tickets are available through the Ensemble Theatre Box Office at 805.965.5400, or click here to order online.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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