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‘Crowns’: A roof-raising musical with ‘hattitude’
‘Crowns’: A roof-raising musical with ‘hattitude’May 05, 2009Patrick Finlonstagepr@syr.edu
A jubilant hit at theaters across the country, “Crowns” embodies the soul, faith and style of African American women and their fabulous hats. When a Brooklyn teenager moves south to escape a family tragedy, she is introduced by her grandmother to the “hat queens,” and so begins a musical journey of healing, humor and heart. Filled with gospel music and colorful dress, “Crowns” runs May 13-June 7 at Syracuse Stage. Tickets are available at the Syracuse Stage Box Office at 820 E. Genesee St., by telephone at (315) 443-3275 or at http://www.SyracuseStage.org.
Inspiration for “Crowns” came from the photography book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry titled “Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats” (Doubleday, 2000), now in its seventh printing.
“I always believed that the oral histories I gathered for the book ‘Crowns’ would work on the stage,” says Marberry. “These hat queens, I realized, were not really celebrating their singular headgear. They were reflecting on love and loss and, most importantly, sisterhood.” He also notes, “Adorning the head for worship is a very African tradition. I think it’s rooted in the tradition that when one presents oneself before God, you should be at your best.”
In order to trace back the tradition of hats, the structure of “Crowns” does not follow a conventional narrative. Different characters and time periods are woven together with music and movement, creating a tapestry of voices.
“Hats reveal and they conceal,” says playwright Regina Taylor. “In the course of this play, we’re taking away all these layers, in terms of where these women come from, who their parents were, and also beyond their memories to the subconscious memory that’s been passed down, from generation to generation.”
“On the surface ‘Crowns’ appears to be about a young mixed-up girl from Brooklyn heading down South to live with her church-going grandmother. And of course it is about hats: big, small, plain, decorative, old-fashioned and trendy,” says director Patdro Harris. “Who would have thought something so simple as a hat could express the rhythm, the heart, the soul of a people-hats being an extension of how a people live their lives with honor, hope and healing. Yes, ‘Crowns’ is about a young girl’s troubles, but it is also about discovery of community, culture and facing the past.
“Crowns” at Syracuse Stage is a co-production with Indiana Repertory Theatre.