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Ford’s Show Takes On Local Flavor

Friday marks the opening of a new musical at Ford’s Theatre, one with strong ties to Capitol Hill. Set in the 1930s, “Black Pearl Sings!— tells the story of a researcher from the Library of Congress and a Texas prison inmate.

In the play, researcher Susannah is looking for little-known songs that predate slavery. During her search she encounters the title character, Pearl, in a Texas prison, and the two women bond over music rooted in Pearl’s African heritage.

Erika Rolfsrud plays the role of Susannah, with Tony Award-winning actress Tonya Pinkins as Pearl. Pearl has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and has to make the difficult choice of whether to trade her music for a chance at freedom.

Rolfsrud says she was drawn to the play because of the music and the relationship between the two characters.

“I really liked the story of two women together in a period that was difficult for the country anyway, but trying to find their own freedoms. It’s something they can work together on but at the same time because of race there is a distance there as well.—

Director Jennifer Nelson was also drawn to the story because it features women. “I loves that it’s two women. I feel like we don’t really get to see women’s stories that much on main stages and this is the story of two women who — through their mutual love of music — find ways that they change each others’ lives,— she said.

“Black Pearl Sings!— is the inaugural show of the 2009-2010 Ford’s Theatre season. The theater reopened earlier this year after being shuttered for a major renovation that took two years.

“They’ve really done a lovely job with it and the facilities are really nice and up to date — it’s terrific,— Rolfsrud, who last performed at the theater in 1996, says, adding that it is a thrill to perform at such a historic theater. She says that when she has time she visits the museum in the theater’s basement to learn more about Abraham Lincoln and his assassination.

Nelson says the renovation to Ford’s has made it a much better place to put on a show. While the theater itself may not look all that different to the untrained eye, she says the acoustics and the lighting are much better now, which makes for a better production. Her main concern while working at the theater is the production, but even so Nelson says it’s hard not to get excited about the history.

“All of a sudden you look up and see the box, and for me anyway it’s kind of a thrill,— she says.

The show will run through Oct. 18, and tickets can be purchased at

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