Crowns is a unique musical because the music style focuses on gospel, with some hip-hop here and there, instead of traditional showtime theatre music. Also, the story/plot is not very cohesive and besides the main character, Yolanda, most characters backgrounds and personalities seem to be more representative of a group of people than individualistic of a unique person. Characters don’t interact with each other outside of an occasional reference or sly comment. The musical felt like story time, where each character would take their turn singing a story about their past to the audience. However, there was one character that was built up, idolized, discussed, personified, and was the focus of the musical– hats also referred to as crowns. Maybe that is the point, the people were props and hats is the character.
I enjoyed Yolanda’s opening hip hop song. When she mentioned her brother Teddy dying, the music died with Teddy, but her voice kept singing and remained strong. It showed that Yolanda lost a large part of her life, but she is going to stay tough and not let this tragedy stifle her voice.
The most spectacular part of this performance of crowns was the quality and power of the singing; even more so than the fancy hats and dresses worn by the cast. Velma, who was the one in a light purple dress, had a professional voice with intense resonance. She had most of the major singing roles and brought the house down every single time.
The musical was extremely comical. Mabel, who was the preacher’s wife, provided most of the comic relief. In the performance, Mabel did a fantastic job of having a big and exaggerated personality. I thought the funniest part of the musical was during the “hattitude” scene; hattitude is the ability to wear a hat well. The scene about never touching a women’s hat was also really funny because of the physical comedy. They showed how to hug in an obscure way and duck whenever hearing a sound from the back. It showed how delicately they treat their hats, like their hats are babies.
There was very strong imagery and prominent themes in this musical: materialism vs minimalism, isolation of our generation from our heritage and history, lonerism, duality (reveal and conceal). All of these themes were portrayed through hats.
Although he wasn’t a major character, I thought the preacher was phenomenal. He was actually my favorite actor. He spoke so charismatically and had an amazing voice that reminded me of John Legend. He played a big role in my favorite scene which was the baptism of Yolanda. I enjoyed that they used a blue blanket and had baby like movements for Yolanda. The scene was like a child being born, which is what a baptism is in a religious sense.
Personally, I wish there was more a cohesive story and that the characters had more interaction with each other. All the narratives explaining the importance of hats got a little tedious and tiresome. I believe that instead of literally saying the qualities and importance of hats through anecdotes, figurative stories and acting with subtle imagery of hats could have done a better job. I believe this would have made the hats feel more intimate to the characters and audience.
A truly fantastic job by Basement Arts. I cannot stress the quality of singing that was in this performance.