Dallas diva Liz Mikel gets a plum role as a 1930s ex-con who sings up a storm, all the way to New York high society. Based loosely on the story of Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter, this two-character play-with-music begins in the East Texas prison where Pearl is doing time for removing a man's privates with a knife. A Library of Congress musicologist (Diana Sheehan) visits the prison looking for black women who know folk songs "from before slave times." Pearl knows a bunch and shares them with the white lady on one condition: If she sings for the recording machine, she wants help finding her lost adult daughter. The plot doesn't thicken much in the second act, which finds Pearl the toast of New York, though some critics liken her earthy Gullah singing and borderline raunchy storytelling to a carnival sideshow act. The play's not the thing here; it's the a cappella singing of Ms. Mikel, whose voice seems to emanate from somewhere deep down in the earth itself. Through June 20 at WaterTower Theatre, 15650 Addison Rd., Addison. 972-450-6232. Reviewed May 28.
Wednesdays, Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Sat., June 19, 2 p.m. Starts: May 27. Continues through June 20, 2010