Crowns at Chicago's Goodman Theatre: A Celebration of the Human Spirit.

Crowns at Chicago's Goodman Theatre: A Celebration of the Human Spirit.
Toi Overton, Director of Theater for Women & Men at Black Ensemble Theater, gets ready to take her seat at Monday's opening night perfromance of Crowns at the Goodman Theatre.

Chicago, Tuesday, July 10, 2012. Sitting on the outdoor patio at Petterino's Restaurant watching the parade of finely dressed women sporting beautiful hats and ensembles as they strolled down Dearborn Street on an equally beautiful Chicago evening, one might have thought they'd time-traveled back to South Carolina in the late '50's unless they realized it was opening night for the popular Crowns at the adjoining Goodman Theatre.

Crowns, Regina Taylor's theater piece, inspired by the coffee-table book, Crowns, by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry, has been delighting audiences since its inception a little over a decade ago.  The play, which has distinguished itself as the most-produced new musical in the U.S. over the past ten years has been seen by more than one million audience members in 40-plus cities across the country and Canada.

Crowns is an exploration of the journey of African-American women to find a sense of self-worth and social acceptance that uses the metaphor of hats to convey their self-pride. The play traces the roots of Gospel music through contemporary hip hop, fusing rich storytelling with abundant “hattitude”.

The plot focuses on a teenage girl Yolonda (Marketta P. Wilder) who is is sent down South to stay with her grandmother (Tony award-winning actress for "The Color Purple" Felica P. Fields) after the killing of her brother in a gang-ridden urban neighborhood. The ensemble cast also includes several “leading ladies” of the American theater, E. Faye Butler as Mabel, Alexis Rogers as Jeanette and Pauletta Washington as Wanda,  Newcomers Jasondra Johnson (Velma) along with Marketta P. Wilder, a Chicago native, were cast from hundreds of hopefuls in Taylor’s open audition for emerging Chicago actors.

Also featured is David Jennings as the preacher, and Taylor’s newly-created five-member ensemble with Chicago talents including Shari Addison, Melanie Brezill, Kelvin Roston, Yusha-Marie Sorzano and Laura Walls. The creative team includes music director Fred Carl, projection designer Maya Ciarrocchi, set designer Maruti Evans, choreographer Dianne McIntyre, costume designer Karen Perry, lighting designer Ken Posner and sound designer Richard Woodbury.

In Taylor's re-imagined piece for Chicago, Yolonda and her brother's shooting scene has been transplanted from its original Brooklyn local to Chicago's more familiar Englewood neighborhood with Chicago scenes playing a staring role on the video screen at the back of the stage.

The all-star cast, the staging, the music (featuring a seven-piece pit orchestra) and the enthusiast audience makes Crowns more than a show.  It is an event. So hold onto your hats and join this celebration of the human spirit with the re-interpreted production of an old favorite Crowns...just don't get in over your head.


“The Yolanda Project” and Pre-Show Spoken Word from Louder Than a Bomb/Young Chicago Authors.

In reshaping her 17-year old central character in Crowns, Taylor engaged in “The Yolanda Project”—a four-week workshop and dialogue with young Chicago women aged 17-21 and involved with Louder Than a Bomb/Young Chicago Authors. Jamila Woods, a former Goodman intern and two-time Louder Than a Bomb winner, moderated the sessions. Members of Young Chicago Authors bring powerful recitations of their own spoken-word poems each Friday during the run—July 13, 20, 27 and August 3 at 7p.m. in the Goodman Lobby.

Other pre-show events and activities at select performances of Crowns include:

Local choirs Johnell Nicholas and In Spirit Ministries will perform on July 11 at 6:45p.m. in the Goodman Lobby.

Sweet Holy Spirit Church Choir will perform July 26 at 6:45p.m. in the lobby with local milliners will selling their original hat creations in the coat check area.


Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes, Tickets: $31-$88 at 312 443 3800 or at the Goodman Theatre website.  Extended through August 12, 2012.

Filed under: Theater in Chicago


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