Crowns – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

Queens and princesses are not the only ladies to wear crowns. For members of the Red Hat Society, a chapeau in some shade of crimson is mandatory. A tradition also exists among African-American women from the South to be fashionably attired for church by donning the appropriately festooned hat. Worn like a badge of honor, these hats make these women queens as they rise and shine to praise the Lord and sing with glory. To be caught up in their jubilation, look no further than Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven’s joyous celebration of spirit that is Regina Taylor’s gospel experience “Crowns.” Ms. Taylor also directs this special musical gem.

Until Sunday, May 13, we are welcomed into this unique congregation of women who know how to commune directly and poignantly with God and are willing to sing his praises every Sunday in church. Whether it’s through gospel, spirituals, jazz, blues and even hip-hop, these women become queens in their own world, wearing distinctive and distinguished hats that express their personalities. It is not unheard of to own over one hundred of these ornaments for the head and to strut proudly and a little defiantly unto the Lord.

Come make the acquaintance of some of these remarkable women who resemble peacocks with pride, led by Mother Shaw, a wise Shari Addison, who with her cohorts Jeanette (Rebecca E. Covington), Velma (Latice Crawford), Wanda (Stephanie Pope) and Mabel (Danielle K. Thomas) and one token male (Lawrence Clayton) as the preacher man to help rescue Mother Shaw’s granddaughter Yolanda, a conflicted Gabrielle Beckford. Yolanda has just witnessed her brother’s death in Brooklyn, and her mother has sent her South to heal and get away from the shooting scene.

Seeking sanctuary at her grandmother’s home, she is guided and indoctrinated into a new sisterhood with these spirited women, one she is reluctant to accept. Dressed like a fashion parade, courtesy of Emilio Sosa, with the incredible musical help of Jaret Landon and David Pleasant, these feisty and snappy styled ladies surround Yolanda with caring and concern and love, encouraging her to join their sacred society and abandon her baseball cap for a real chapeau.

For tickets ($35.50-91.50), call Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven at 203-787-4282 or online at Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 p.m., Thursday to Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Additional shows are Sunday April 29 at 7 p.m., April 28, May 5 and 12 at 3 p.m. and May 2 and 9 at 2 p.m.

Whether you put on a pill box or a derby, a baseball cap or a turban, a chapeau or a tiara, you’ll enjoy the jubilation of the church ladies as they celebrate laughter, life and love.