There was a time in society when women wore over-the-top formal hats to attend church and other social functions. While it may have appeared to be a fashionable trend, the hats these women wore, ideally stood for so much more.
“Crowns,” a gospel musical by Regina Taylor, adapted from the book by Cunningham and Marberry, will wrap up its final weekend Feb. 22-24 at Trinity Centre on West Fifth Street.
While the Theatre Workshop of Owensboro (TWO) has presented hundreds of well-known and classical show titles throughout the years, Crowns is one of the few to feature an all-black cast and director.
McCellus Mays is on the board of directors for TWO and has been with the company for 27 years. He said that serving in that capacity does allow him the opportunity to have input on some of the show recommendations. But, recently, Mays made the suggestion that the theatre may need to diversify more by presenting plays in which the cast featured a variety of ethnicities including African-American, Latino and Asian.
He said the board was enthusiastic and supportive of his suggestion, but the timing of the performance was even more ideal.
“By the luck of events, I brought this to the board and instantly it was a unanimous yes,” Mays said. “Another thing falling into place at the right time, was an all-black cast with an all-black story — and it kind of fell into Black History Month — so that gave it an extra boost.”
Crowns is the story of a young girl, Yolanda, from Brooklyn, NY, who goes down to South Carolina to live with her grandmother after the death of her brother. Through uplifting Gospel music and vivid storytelling, Yolanda gains strength and confidence from the wisdom of the powerful women in her life that embrace their “crowns.”
Lataysha Kelly describes her character, Jeanette, as “more of a modest girl, but a little flirty.”
“For me, I grew up seeing my aunts and great aunts in that dress, wearing hats, all formal,” Kelly said. “It wasn’t until this play that I realized the meaning behind it. The crowns, our hats — they’re literally our identity as a woman — you wear your crown. At first, I didn’t understand that when I was little, I just thought my aunt was going overboard with these hats.”
Kelly said, the majority of the setting is in the midst of the church service, where a lot of the music happens. Each lady has their moment to go up and talk to the young girl and explain about the history of their hat and the experiences it has brought them through.
“These women each walk around with these crowns — with this confidence,” Kelly said. “We use the clothes and the hats to understand the importance of knowing yourself and your self-worth. Mother Shaw, says, ‘We all have crowns — we just need to wear them’– to me, that’s ultimate confidence.”
Kelly and Mays both said they have been happy with the audience turn out, with 80 percent of the theatre being filled.
“A lot of people from the black community have come out,” Kelly said. “It’s just, how do we keep them coming? What do we do next?”
Mays said he has a plan, but it would involve casting more minority individuals in starring roles.
“Going forward I’ve been asked to present more African-American or minority-heavy scripts to the committee to consider,” Mays said. “I guess that the ball is rolling and it’s in my court to see that it comes to fruition as a norm rather than the exception. As far as the community, I hope they see that there is some good talent in Owensboro that can sing, act, direct and put on a quality show.”
Crowns will be playing this Friday and Saturday, Feb 22-23 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Trinity Centre at 407 W. Fifth St. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for students (plus tax). There will be a $2 surcharge for all tickets purchased at the door.
Rhondalyn Randolph – Mother Shaw
Sadie Brimm – Yolanda
Londun Randolph – Mabel
Brittney Brown – Wanda
Norma Talbott – Velma
LaTaysha Kelly – Jeanette
Layson Brooks -Man/Pastor
McCellus Mays -Director
Lauren Calhoun – Musical Director
Danny Huffman and DeMarcus Curry – Musicians
Karen Carothers – Stage Manager
Stage/Prop/ Light Crew- Veronica Wilhite, Joanne Kendall, Charmaine Meadows, Conner Whitfield, Damon Wallace
House Manager- Sherry Kassinger Martin, Dustin Adrian
Director of TWO Todd Reynolds