Mal Vincent Reviews CROWNS

Norfolk's Wells Theatre resounds with the joyful musical "Crowns"

Mal Vincent
The Virginian-Pilot
May 17, 2018

“Crowns,” the final show of Virginia Stage Company’s 39th season, is best when it is selling pride and soul rather than flash.

A well-dressed church woman puts it best when she says that you’ve got to have the right attitude to pull off something big.

Call it “hat-itude,” and you’ve got the essence of this gospel musical. The show has plenty of “hat-itude,” but it could stand to take a deeper look at the determination and soul that crown these women rather than relying on the symbolic hats. Symbols can be overused. Repetition is dangerous, even in an evening this short.

At its best, which is often very joyful indeed, “Crowns” is a delightful celebration of the churchwomen who dress divinely to go and meet the Almighty every Sunday. The hat (the “crown” of the title) is the main ingredient – a symbol of both pride and faith.

The show’s good-heartedness is not something to be taken for granted.

A cast of six women and one man, under the well-paced direction of Raelle Myrick-Hodges (undertaking her first musical), give it flair, and could, very likely, have given it depth, if the script were there.

The plot involves a New York girl sent to live in South Carolina after the murder of her brother. Will she put away her hip-hop ways and her baseball cap to cross the generation gap and wear a Sunday hat?

The church ladies are suitable inspiration for any urban doubter – as well, for that matter, for any audience member.

Because this is not so much a play as a group of monologues, it lacks the interplay of characters and dialogue that could have made it as meaningful as it is joyful.

Regina Taylor is perhaps a better actress than a writer.

She has starred in TV’s “I’ll Fly Away” and other projects. She had a great idea in adapting the coffee-table book “Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats” by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry. But she wrote too much about the hats and left us wanting more about the women.

No cast has ever failed with “When the Saints Go Marching In” and Amma Osei fairly soars with “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.”

There is “Marching to Zion” and “I’m on the Battlefield.” When they sing “When I’ve Done the Best I Can – I Want My Crown,” there are none in the audience who would deny them or who could remain seated.

The cast richly deserves an “amen."

This musical recognizes the sisterhood of pride and faith – faith in self and faith in God. The sisters of hatdom show us about self-awareness, pride and faith. We’d like to know more about them, but just to meet them in their “Crowns” is worth the ticket.