Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Crowns
Long Wharf Theatre
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Zander's reviews of Fun Home and The Revisionist


The Cast of Crowns
Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Angela Taylor's resounding, reverberating musical Crowns continues at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre through May 13th. The show is produced in association with McCarter Theatre Center where Crowns recently completed a run. The McCarter commissioned this work in 2002 and it is adapted from the book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry. Emily Mann, McCarter's Artistic Director, was the original catalyst for Taylor (playwright and director of this presentation). A dynamic and resplendent experience which features huge doses of gospel and also rap, hip hop and blues, Crowns is absolutely stunning from its first moment. Had I left the theater after the first 20 minutes, even that brief musical blast of adrenalin would have been indelible.

Playwright Taylor has said that this version of her show differs somewhat from her original scripting. Yolanda (Gabrielle Beckford) is a tough, gritty young woman from Chicago whose brother has recently been shot to death. Her mother sends her daughter, whose mode of expression is rap, to North Carolina to live with Mother Shaw (Shari Addison), Yolanda's grandmother. Yolanda is projected to be there for the summer. Mother Shaw and other women on the scene wear resplendent hats which truly celebrate their spirits. Individual hats have stories of their owns and these might include anything from birth through death. The women are churchgoers and religion is central to existence. Actress Stephanie Pope plays Wanda, who wears lovely clothing. Danielle K. Thomas is cast as Mabel, married to a preacher. Velma (Latice Crawford) is a mortician. Jeanette (Rebecca E. Covington) tends to notice many a man.

Regina Taylor has intended to spin the current rendering so that, perhaps, Yolanda's perspective and world are further emphasized. That is so, but Crowns is exhilarating for its wondrous depiction of the exuberant group of women. Actor Lawrence Clayton plays multiple roles as one man or another; he is, as are the women, sterling.

The music is composed by Jaret Landon, Diedre Murray, and Chesney Snow. Murray provides arrangements. The versatile and obviously talented Landon (musical director) plays piano, keyboard, and guitar while the amazing David Pleasant, described as a Drumfolk Riddim Specialist, is as responsible for fueling and catapulting this show forward (from the get-go) as anyone else on stage. The musicians are very much visible and one hundred percent plus energized.

Crowns is about African-American culture as it is in North Carolina amongst a group of animated, audacious women. During the performance gospel oftentimes equals soul! The women are dubbed "hat queens" because each owns 100 hats or more. Yolanda, wearing a bright red baseball cap, feels she hasn't anything in common with her grandmother and the rest—at first. She oftentimes sits either on the stage or in a theater aisle listening. For a long while, the disconnect between the teenager and the others cannot be denied. The plot allows, during its final portion, for her to gain some understanding and return to Chicago having come of age and matured. She sees that the Sunday churchgoing women are filled with joy; they are positive, uplifting role models.

Taylor, as director, with assistance from choreographer Dianne McIntyre, propels the production to its maximum with immediacy. Caite Hevner, designing, utilizes chairs and a staircase effectively. Emilio Sosa's costuming is spectacular. Each actor brings a festive passion. Crowns is driven by thrilling music which emanates from the percussionist, the keyboard man, and the fervent ensemble actors.

When Yolanda situates herself, once more, in her Chicago neighborhood and revisits her life as an adolescent on the streets, she brings with her the reflection of her time in North Carolina. Her memory will be one filled with wise, singing, sometimes comical women who hold genuine affection for one another. Call this entire production inspirational.

Crowns, through May 13, 2018, at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Dr., New Haven CT. For tickets, call (203) 787-4282 or visit longwharf.org.


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