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<i>Crowns</i> cast: Odyssey Photography
Crowns cast: Odyssey Photography

Theatre Review: Crowns at the National Arts Centre, Ottawa

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The musical Crowns is runs at the NAC in Ottawa through March 18. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has our review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

If you want to brighten up the dregs of winter, go see the Canadian premiere of CROWNS at the NAC.  The musical by Regina Taylor was inspired by a book of oral histories and photographs of African-American women resplendent in their Sunday millinery.  The story centers around a young Brooklyn girl who is sent to the south to live with her grandmother following the gang-related shooting of her brother.  There she learns to accept her heritage and discovers "hattitude".  CROWNS is a series of memories, philosophies and anecdotes surrounded by exciting dance and the whole immersed in glorious and rousing gospel music.

Dale F. Jordan's set, a sweeping parquet platform that curves up into a backdrop, provides an elegant playing space.  The platform is surrounded by what seems like hundreds of bright colored hats on stands and brackets in the wings, reaching to the top of the proscenium.  His lighting is also good, especially the effect of tree branches on the backdrop.

Phillip Clarkson's costumes are wonderfully colorful, right down to the shoes.  I coveted a spiffy pair of red and black pumps.  Of course then there are the hats - in unusual shapes and colors, with all kinds of flamboyant decoration.  They're a feast for the eye.

The ensemble cast of six women and one man is splendid.  They're all good actors and first-rate singers who are terrific in their solos as well as in lots of powerful harmony, and there's also some nifty dancing.  One of my favorite numbers is "His Eye Is on the Sparrow".  It begins fairly quietly and builds into a real roof-raiser.

The accompaniment is provided by Musical Director e' Marcus Harper on piano and Romero Wyatt on percussion.  They're both on stage and are a delight to listen to and to watch.  Mr. Harper did some terrific stuff with his left hand on "When the Saints Go Marching In".  As for percussion, Mr. Wyatt is surrounded by equipment and makes good use of all of it, even the pole he uses to pound the floor.

Marion J. Caffey directed and choreographed CROWNS and has done a fine job of both.  The staging flows smoothly and emphasizes the changing focus of the material.  I particularly liked his staging of the memories and the hats of two daddies and the young girl's brother.

Like me the rest of the audience was hooked on the rhythm.  Numerous times the usually staid NAC audience was caught up in the music and enthusiastically clapped along.  There's also a jump to your feet closing number.  Not only is CROWNS great fun, it's inspired me to dig my hats out of the closet and to wear them.

On a scale of one to five the NAC/CanStage/Manitoba Theatre Centre co-production of CROWNS gets four and three-fourths Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.

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