Saturday, February 04, 2012

'Black Pearl Sings' Worth Seeing, Especially For Just A Song -- Theater Review

Theater Review

Black Pearl Sings
a play by Frank Higgins
Northlight Theatre, Skokie, IL
Thru February 18

Black Pearl Sings won't be the best piece of theater I see this year.

Hopefully it won't even wind up being the best show I see in February. 

For though it is an interesting, informative and enjoyable play--with substantial a cappella singing but not technically a musical--it was not riveting enough throughout for me to bestow my strongest raves.

But it is a prime example of the kind of quality  entertainment that can be readily seen upon Chicagoland stages for much less than what many people might envision "live theater" costs.

Although compared to many other shows I've seen, Black Pearl Sings warrants attracting larger crowds than turned out on Wednesday night, even among theater fans willing to pay $40-$45 for a regular weeknight ticket, I was happily able to walk up to the box office, just 10 minutes before showtime, and purchase a "Day Of" discount ticket for just $20.

I live nearby, so I didn't mind taking my chances, but could've bought a $20 ticket any time that day by calling the box office (a small "phone charge"--perhaps $3.50--would have been added). Information on Northlight discounts can be found here.

Discount tickets for Black Pearl Sings also seem to be commonly available on HotTix and Goldstar, two great online services that are free to utilize, except for the per ticket fees added to the discounted (typically half price) tickets they offer, often a few days ahead of a given performance.

On HotTix today, one could buy discount tickets for over 50 shows in the Chicago area this weekend, most for under $20 (before fees), many for under $10. Goldstar currently has 64 theater listings, plus comedy, music, sports and other events.

My point isn't that productions such as Black Pearl Sings--which features two excellent actresses/singers, E. Faye Butler and Susie McMonagle, who I've seen in many shows--only warrant being seen on the cheap. Rather, that for those of use who love live theater, and lots of it, it's particularly nice to be able to go for a more affordable price. (Besides "day of" discounts offered by many theaters, whether through their box offices and/or HotTix and/or Goldstar, subscription series are a great way to keep costs down. I pay less than $25 per ticket for Broadway in Chicago and Goodman Theatre shows.)

While I wouldn't deem Black Pearl Sings to be fantastic, its merits were recommended by a Northlight subscriber and for the $20 I paid, it was well worth seeing.

Written by Frank Higgins, the play is inspired by the story of famed folk singer Lead Belly being discovered in a prison camp by a Library of Congress "song collector." Here the two characters--whose tales Higgins has fictionalized--are women, with McMonagle playing the prim, New York-bred song collector Susannah and Butler a gifted singer named Pearl who has been imprisoned in a Texas camp for 10 years.

With the first act taking place in the office of the Texas prison camp and act two moving to Manhattan a year later, the differences between Susannah and Pearl drive the narrative. Yet certain commonalities help make their evolving friendship believable, even if often tempestuous.

I felt Susannah betrays herself a bit in the second act and there is something about the whole affair that keeps it from ever being truly mesmerizing, but the topic is appreciable and the performances quite good. 

A couple of "Pearl in performance" crowd sing-a-longs by Butler were great fun and probably the high point of the evening. This may not be a "must see" show--though the audience seemed to enjoy it plenty--but for just $20, there's no reason not to. 

This video will give you a taste, including a snippet of a song with which I was already familiar, thanks to Moby. There are a few more videos on the same page.

1 comment:

Corwin said...

Thanks for coming to the show! I'm glad you enjoyed the performances of E. Faye Butler and Susie McMonagle.
-L. Corwin Christie, Northlight Theatre