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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Crowns at Intiman Theatre

Crowns
Cynthia Jones and
Felicia Loud

Intiman kicks off its new season with a rousing amen and hallelujah in its production of Crowns, Regina Taylor's gospel musical which is this year's hot show in terms of per capita regional productions. Based on the book Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry, and sure to appeal to the same audience base that has made Intiman's holiday show Black Nativity an annual event, Crowns is also appealing to those, like myself, who have never set foot in an African-American gospel church.

Playwright Taylor spent two years adapting and workshopping the show, and it is richly humorous, tenderly touching, and infused with great gospel music. The women from the book have been cannily condensed into six women (whose lives touch and enrich an angry young Brooklyn woman named Yolanda, who has come to South Carolina to live with her Grandmother, Mother Shaw, following her beloved brother's fatal shooting.

Jacqueline Moscou's assured, vibrant direction and gospel maven Patrinell Wright's fluid musical direction see to it that the ladies and one gentlemen of the company are all well defined and represented. Cynthia Jones is the quiet eye of a hurricane as the indomitable Grandmother, often saying as much when she observes the other ladies as when she takes center stage for a song or monologue. Felicia Loud takes young Yolanda on a journey of self discovery, as her inner city attitude mellows in her acceptance of her family heritage, as symbolized by their amazing church hats. Show Boat Tony award-winner Gretha Boston has perhaps the most distinctive and rich vocal instrument on the stage, but the contributions of such fellow actress/singers as Shaunyce Omar, Josephine Howell, and Deidre N. Henry are also strongly felt. As all the men in the tale, Doug Eskew is a cheerful and ingratiating presence, though perhaps not an actor with great enough range to really imbue his different gents with much individuality. Musicians Bill Sims Jr. and Mark L. Sampson provide rousing, rock solid musical support, and Donald Byrd supplies sprightly, character appropriate choreography.

Needless to say, a key factor in the success of this show would have to be the hats themselves. Henrietta Price, proprietor of Henrietta's Hats, has provided dozens of varied, colorful, celebratory or ceremonial headdresses that aid greatly in bringing the women's stories to life. Carey Wong's scenic design is simple and elegant, well balanced by Edward P. Bartholomew's lighting design, and costume designer Catherine Hunt matches her designs perfectly with the styles of the hats.

Just over ninety minutes in running time (with no intermission), Crowns is a joyous celebration of a way of life not overly familiar to a broad audience. In this production, it is safe to paraphrase and say that easy sit the heads that wear these crowns.

Crowns runs through May 28 at Intiman Theatre at Seattle Center. For more information go to their web site at www.intiman.org.


Photo by Chris Bennion



- David-Edward Hughes



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