Crowns: A Worthy Coronet Revives UConn Summer SeriesBy Lauren Yarger
“Hatitude” links a tough, soul-searching, hip hopping African-American woman with her roots and church sisters through their traditions of wearing hats in Regina Taylor’s musical Crowns which restarts Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series at the University of Connecticut.
Crowns is a celebration of all kinds of hats, big and small, bright, feathered and flowered, but the musical’s brim covers much more. It’s also a celebration of black women, of their enduring strength and of their common traditions and culture. Taylor adapted the script from a collection of oral stories compiled in a book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry. Set on a wooden planked, peaked set bringing to mind a church (Felix E. Cochren, scenic design) various stories are related and embellished as the actors, ably directed and choreographed by Patdro Harris, adorn themselves with the many hats displayed around the set (and with bold and imaginatively serviceable costumes by Reggie Ray).
Connecting all of the stories is Yolanda (Shannon Antalan), a sad, troubled Brooklyn teen sent to South Carolina to stay with her grandmother, Mother Shaw (Chandra Currelley) following a tragedy. She wears her dead brother’s baseball hat with the cap turned backwards, a “crown” that clashes with her grandmother’s culture in which the women revere hats, often owning hundreds. They share “hattitude” with Yolanda for wearing, lending or even touching them.
When the church women share their own stories of love, loss and discrimination (the hats trigger the memories), their differences fade.
“Our crowns have been bought and paid for. We just need to wear them,” Yolanda is told.
Though the journey she experiences a funeral, a baptism and a wedding and finds identity with and acceptance by the other hat-wearing women. Ronald McCall, Crystal Fox, Roz White, Valerie Payton and Terry Burrell round out the very talented ensemble who lend strong vocals to the hymns and other existing material (the opening rap number is original). Just two musicians, director William Hubbard and Otis Gould, provide a full spirited accompaniment of piano and percussion to the foot-stomping, hand clapping good time gospel.
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