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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 6, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 14
Taproot's Crowns a gospel celebration of African American culture
Arts & Entertainment
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Taproot's Crowns a gospel celebration of African American culture

by Paul Torres - SGN Contributing Writer

CROWNS
TAPROOT THEATRE
Through April 28


Crowns, a musical directed by Faith Bennett Russell, is inspired by a book of photographs of African American women adorned in hats. In this book, Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats, are stories and essays about the symbolism behind these hats. This stage version is written by Regina Taylor. Taylor's work here is deceivingly simple and straightforward, but is packed full of powerful writing that takes you to another emotional hemisphere. Presented on the Taproot Theatre Company stage, it is a show full of lively celebration and delight.

Young Yolanda, excellently played by Bethanie Willis, is leading a troubled life in Brooklyn. Her young brother was gunned down and she is seeking clarification and answers in her life. Her mother moves her 'down South' (a world away from her city life) to live with her grandmother, Mother Shaw, portrayed by a wonderful Tracy Michelle Hughes. She is then regaled and enlightened with great stories and lively tales from Mother Shaw and her proud matriarchy of friends. They use the magnificent hats as physical embodiments to tell their stories of hardship, hope, and glory. It's their legacy they're handing on down.

The music is inspirational. Along with Musical Director Aaron Norman, Russell's direction here becomes even more poignant with outstanding numbers like the opener, 'Where I Belong,' rapped by Willis. 'Brooklyn New York / That's where I was born / Brooklyn New York / That's where I belong& Teddy my brother / Got shot one day / After his funeral / Mom sent me away&' Yolanda's soul is aching and longs for healing, redemption and wisdom. These words come down to her from her grandmother in an especially moving gospel tune, 'In the Morning,' co-sung with Mabel (a lovely Marlette Buchanan). Other memorable moments come with classics like the rousing 'Oh, When the Saints [Come Marching In]' and 'His Eye is On the Sparrow.'

The entire cast and band add to the spiritual ambience of the evening whether it's reliving Sundays in the pews and huge hats blocking the preacher or a sweet story of true love, marriage, and passages. The ensemble connects here better than anything I've seen in recent seasons.

Seeing Crowns is like going to church, seeing a rousing motivational speech, and sitting through an enthralling history lecture all in one, and then being wrapped in uplifting, expressive music. The hats/crowns are a complex metaphor, but this musical makes it universally endearing because everyone wears their own hats. Crowns is a joyous journey into what it means to be a part of a community of women in times of trial, celebration, and exploration. They really show off their 'hatitude' in this mighty production. It deserves a huge hallelujah and AMEN!

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