Meet the “Black Pearl Sings!” Team

PIC Promo Quartet KC StudioFrank Higgins (Playwright), Nedra Dixon (Pearl Johnson), Walter Coppage (Director), Vanessa Severo (Susannah Mullally)


Frank Higgins (Playwright) is the author of the plays Black Pearl Sings and The Sweet By ‘n’ By, the latter produced with Blythe Danner and Gwyneth Paltrow. His play The Taste Test will be produced in June in Kansas City at the Just Off Broadway space in a co-production by Phoenix Theatre and The Melting Pot Theater. In July the Coterie Theatre will workshop his new play for young audiences Born Blue: The Diary of the Blue Cat as part of the KC Fringe Festival. His work has been seen in New York, Vienna, and across the country at the Williamstown Theater Festival, the Old Globe Theatre, Ford’s Theater in Washington DC, Northlight Theatre in Chicago, San Jose Repertory Theatre, Kansas City Repertory Theater, Virginia Stage Company, the Barter Theater, and other places. His plays have been published by Dramatists Play Service, Samuel French, Dramatic Publishing Company, and Pioneer Drama Service. His one act play The True Death of Socrates is included in Best American Short Plays of 2013, published by Applause Books. He has also written several plays for young audiences, including Anansi the Spider and The Middle Passage and The Country of the Blind. He has also published two books of poetry, and two books of haiku. He teaches at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and is a member of the Dramatists Guild.

Nedra Dixon (Pearl Johnson) is thrilled to make her Spinning Tree Theatre debut as ‘Pearl’ in Black Pearl Sings! In addition to the honor of performing at The White House, the Kennedy Center Honors, Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden, Nedra has received critical acclaim as a “triple threat” performer, director, and choreographer in numerous venues on Broadway, Off Broadway, National tours, and regional theaters. She’s played roles as varied as Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar to the ditzy gun moll Erma in Anything Goes, The Witch in Into The Woods and Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Nedra’s Kansas City credits include The Wiz, Menopause, Ruined, bare: A Pop Opera, And Her Hair Went With Her, The Women of Brewster Place, Grey Gardens (Director) and Once On This Island (Director). She has been featured vocalist on NPR’s locally-produced jazz radio show 12th Street Jump and is a proud member of Kansas City’s hottest vocal jazz trio, BOOK OF GAIA, with Angela Hagenbach and Pamela Baskin-Watson. Nedra shares her passion for the arts with her beautiful daughter Jasmin, a gifted and working New York actor.

Walter Coppage (Director) is most pleased to be making his debut at Spinning Tree Theatre. As an actor, he has performed with The Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Studio Theatre DC, Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Kansas City Actors Theatre (founding member), St. Louis Black Repertory Theatre, Coterie Theatre, Unicorn Theatre and Heart of America Shakespeare Festival. Past roles include: MLK in The Mountaintop; Polonius in Hamlet; Chutes & Ladders in Water By The Spoonful, Dr. Copland in The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter; The Stage Manager in Our Town; Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol; Harmond Wilks in Radio Golf; Christian in Ruined; Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing; Pee Wee in Carter’s Way; Charles in The Clean House; Sterling in Permanent Collection; Othello; Jekyll in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Touchstone in As You Like It; Uncle Peck in How I Learned To Drive; Eugene in Yellowman. Principal roles in feature film include: Jayhawkers, The Association, Destination: Planet Negro, Last Ounce Of Courage, Suspension, The Only Good Indian, If Night Comes, Kick Me. Television credits: Gone In The Night (CBS), The Only Witness (Lifetime), All Roads Lead Home (Showtime), A Deadly Vision (ABC), Truman (HBO). Award winning shorts: James Ellroy’s Stay Clean, State Of The Union. Awards: Mid America Emmy (Meet The Past – Tom Bass) 2014, Pitch Critic’s Choice “Best Actor” (Our Town) 2009, “Best Portrayal of an Icon” (The Mountaintop) 2013.

Vanessa Severo (Susannah Mullally). Spinning Tree: Debut. Theatre credits include: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, August Osage County, Cabaret, A Christmas Carol and A Christmas Story: The Musical at Kansas City Repertory Theatre; Gypsy at Musical Theatre Heritage; Venus in Fur, The Motherf***er with the Hat, Green Whales, The Clean House and Bright Ideas at The Unicorn; Frida…a self portrait, Master of the Universe, Black Bird, Burn This, The Death of Cupid at The Living Room; Artist in Residence 2005-06 as well as choreographer for The Wiz at The Coterie; Much Ado About Nothing at Heart Of America Shakespeare Festival; Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Absurd Person Singular, Taking Sides and Desdemona with Kansas City Actors Theatre; I’ll Be Back Before Midnight at American Heartland Theatre; Hedwig and the Angry Inch with Egads Theatre; and Man Of La Mancha at Great Plains Theatre. Vanessa won ‘Best Actress’ 2012 of New York City’s MITF Awards for Thank You Notes, as well as ‘Best Actress’ in The 2009, 2011 and 2012 Kansas City’s Pitch Awards. All my thanks to our wonderfully supportive Kansas City audiences, and to John and Ava – my backbone.


Photo: Manon Halliburton