“CROWNS” on Black Christian Women at Playhouse
Posted: Monday, September 29, 2008 11:51 am
Cumberland County Playhouse adds a feather to its Southern heritage hat Oct 9—Nov. 22 with the musical CROWNS, sponsored by Wyndham Resorts at Fairfield Glade, in O’Brien Adventure Theater. The title refers to Sunday hats traditional among African-American women, a custom seen in the show by young, street-smart New Yorker Yolanda, when she’s sent south to live with her Grandmother Shaw, after a brother’s death in a Brooklyn street fight.
Yolanda’s jeans and backwards baseball cap contrast with Sunday hats and white gloves of South Carolina church women. Their hymns and spirituals contrast with her street rap. CROWNS tells of Yolanda’s journey to traditions and culture of her people, rooted in strong Southern family heritage–not the gang “families” of the inner city.
Director Harry Bryce (Ain’t Misbehavin’) returns to CCP, with Knoxville actor/singer Lar’Juanette Williams as Mother Shaw, and UT Knoxville/Bijou Theater alum Quinn Fortune, now “Bloody Mary” in CCP’s SOUTH PACIFIC. Ohio blues (and opera!) stylist Sharmaine Harris sings a glorious “His Eye is on the Sparrow”, and Knoxville’s Artece Slay (Word Players, Carpetbag Theater) joins ethnic drummer/actor Don Johnson, and CCP Resident Actors Michael Ruff and Glenn Stanton. Florida’s Jnana Wilson (Yolanda), and three Bryce protégés from Sarasota’s Westcoast Black Theater Troupe, complete the cast. Ron Murphy directs the music.
Crowns is a celebratory musical, with hats and customs a springboard for Mother Shaw’s introduction of Yolanda (and the audience) to family heritage and traditions. First, Yolanda meets Southern relatives, and Mother Shaw’s friends—AFTER the woman gently but firmly removes the girl’s ballcap. Then on Sunday, Mother Shaw offers Yolanda a church hat—and the story about it.
Hats prompt tales of manners, history, and status. There are hats for flirting and churchgoing, traditions from African rituals, slavery, the New Testament and fashion. Gospel music and spirituals abound, as Yolanda finds community, church, and family tradition. The tough young New York woman, her spirit challenged by older, conservative women, finds her own independence is rooted in a shared heritage—and finds new style and ”hattitude!”
Also at the Playhouse: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, sponsored by Comfort Suites, Holiday Inn Express, and Hampton Inn; Smoke on the Mountain, sponsored by Cracker Barrel; and Smoke…. Homecoming, sponsored by First National Bank of Tennessee. Tickets are at the Playhouse Box Office (931)484-5000, with details online at www.ccplayhouse.com.