There’s generally a whole lot of spirit to be found on the stages of Raleigh Little Theatre. At the moment, however, there’s a literal revelation, as director Terra Hodge takes us to church by way of Regina Taylor’s 2002 gospel musical Crowns.
The story centers on a young African-American girl, Yolanda, who has lost her brother to street violence. Her mother sends her to live with her grandmother — “Mother Shaw” — to keep her out of trouble. As Yolanda spends time with her grandmother and grandfather, who is a preacher, she learns their story and meets the strong African-American women who attend their church. At first, Yolanda is guarded and unreceptive to their worldview, still wounded from the loss of her brother, But the grace and heartfelt songs from these powerful women touch her heart; and, in the process, they save her soul.
As we hear each woman tell her personal story, we learn about the history of wearing fancy hats in African-American culture and in their churches. As each woman dons her favorite hat and explains its meaning to her, we realize the special place that the hat has in her story and in her heart and culture.
These ladies’ joys and sorrows are told with rich song, soaring voices and, yes, through their stylish hats! These ladies are inspiring and funny at the same time. Says one, “I will lend out my children before I will lend out my hat!”
Mother Shaw (Lynette Barber), Mabel (India Williams), Velma (Chanda Branch), Jeanette (LaToya Smith) Yolanda (Chelsea Moore), Wanda (Aya Wallace), and the Preacher (Joshua Johnson), have terrific voices, and they make their characters shine. Musical director Carolyn Colquitt hit the perfect note by showcasing over two dozen songs fit for a queen in her crown. From Mother Shaw’s “Ain’t That Good News” and “That’s All Right” to Yolanda’s powerful “One of Them,” we realize the strength underneath those brims!
Stage designer Shannon Clark created a terrific church backdrop, with pews and arched windows hanging in the back. At times, the pulpit emerged; and we are literally taken to church. The audience was clearly enthralled by the production, as there were loads of “Amens” and “That’s right!” throughout the show, and folks singing along with the music. An added bonus was the accompaniment of keyboardist Carolyn Colquitt and percussionist Bernard Clark, who, by the way, also wore a hat.
We enjoyed the evening to catch a glimpse into the lives of these women. We tip our hats to everyone involved with the production. This show is worthy of its crown.
SECOND OPINION: Aug. 26th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8600; Aug. 23rd Hillsborough, NC WHUP/104.7 FM community-theater previews for “Lights Up!”: https://whupfm.org/episode/lights-up-82317-permanent-archive/; Aug. 22nd Chapel Hill, NC WUNC/91.5 FM interview with director Terra Hodge and actors Lynnette Barber and Chelsey Moore, plus N.C. State University history professor Blair L.M. Kelley, conducted by Frank Stasio for “The State of Things”: http://wunc.org/post/hat-queens-attitude-reign-crowns-gospel-musical; Aug. 20th Raleigh, NC WRAL.com video preview on “Spiritual Awakening”: http://www.wral.com/entertainment/video/16893245/; and July 1st Raleigh, NC ArtsNow blog by Yolanda W. Rabun: http://www.artsnownc.com/why-our-crown-is-a-big-part-of-african-american-culture/.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents CROWNS at 8 p.m. Aug. 31-Sept. 2, 3 p.m. Sept. 3, 8 p.m. Sept. 7-9, 3 p.m. Sept. 10, 8 p.m. Sept. 15 and 16, and 3 p.m. Sept. 17 in RLT‘s Cantey V. Sutton Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $28 ($24 students and seniors 62+).
BOX OFFICE: 919-821-3111 or https://raleighlittletheatre.secure.force.com/.
RLT‘S 2017-18 SEASON: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/tickets/memberships.html.
PRESENTER: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/RaleighLittleTheatre, https://twitter.com/RLT1936, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raleigh_Little_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/raleighlittletheatre.
NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3rd, performance.
NOTE 3: U.S. Rep. Alma S. Adams, Ph.D. (D-12th Congressional District), who was interviewed for the book on which Crowns is based, in the will participate in the post-show discussion after the gospel musical’s 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10th performance.
Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats (2000 coffee-table book): http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/35685/crowns-by-michael-cunningham-and-craig-marberry/9780385500869/ (Penguin Random House).
Michael Cunningham (photographer): http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/6172/michael-cunningham (Penguin Random House).
Craig Marberry (author): http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/37221/craig-marberry (Penguin Random House).
Crowns (2002 Off-Broadway gospel musical): http://crownsthegospelmusical.com/ (official website), http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=3220 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), and http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/1704 (Internet Off-Broadway Database).
Study Guide: http://www.reginataylor.com/crownsStudyGuide.pdf (The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, MO).
Regina Taylor (Dallas, TX-born actress, director, and playwright): http://reginataylor.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/2539 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/regina-taylor-109792 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0853040/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regina_Taylor (Wikipedia).
Terra Hodge (director and theatre arts teacher at Culbreth Middle School in Chapel Hill): https://www.facebook.com/terra.hodge.7 (Facebook page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.