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Burning Coal Theatre Company’s all-star cast, led by vivacious Triangle theater veteran Joan J as “Mother” Shaw and skywalking Milwaukee-based dance-theater artist Naima Adedapo as her rebellious Brooklyn-born and bred granddaughter Yolanda, polishes Regina Taylor’s bodacious gospel musical, Crowns, until it glows like the finest 24-karat gold. Based on Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry’s 2000 coffee-table book Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats, this exuberant salute to the pulchritude and “hattitude” of church-going African-American women really raises the roof of the newly christened Meymandi Theatre at the Murphey School, where Crowns will complete its three-week run on April 17-20 and 24-27.
Joan J provides a solid center for this powerhouse production of Crowns, staged with great wit and imagination and boundless energy by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee faculty member and frequent Burning Coal collaborator Rebecca Holderness. Joan J pours her heart and soul into her passionate portrait of an old-fashioned Bible-believing grandma who wants to inculcate small-town values and old-time religion into her spiritually adrift granddaughter Yolanda, whose brash big-city ways make her a real fish-out-of-water in rural South Carolina.
Meanwhile, Milwaukee’s Naima Adedapo is a regular ball of fire as the feisty hip-hop queen Yolanda, who unexpectedly finds herself exiled to a little Podunk town way down South where her Brooklyn accent and whatcha-lookin-at attitude make her an object of curiosity. Involuntarily sent to live with her grandmother after her brother is shot, Yolanda arrives with a colossal chip on her shoulder; and it takes a whole village — and a passel of heart-felt sermons — to make her feel a cherished part of her new community and church family.
Other charismatic performers include Paul Garrett as The Preacher and Grandpa Shaw; Yolanda Rabun as Mabel; Sherida McMullan as Jeanette; Le Dawna Akins as Wanda; Emilia Cowans as Velma; and C. Delton Streeter as a Younger Man inexorably drawn to the pretty but pugnacious Yolanda as a moth is to a flame.
Musical director Julie Florin pounds out those gospel numbers with righteous fervor; and technical director Rebecca Buck, lighting designer Ed Intemann, costume designer Vicki R. Davis, properties masters Jon and Karen Byers, and sound designer Al Singer all do their best to make this Burning Coal Theatre Company presentation of Crowns rock with that “Rock of Ages” gusto that makes all God’s children want to stand up and shout “Hallelujah!”
Burning Coal Theatre Company presents Crowns Thursday-Saturday, April 17-19 and 24-26, at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, April 20 and 27, at 2 p.m. in Meymandi Theatre at the Murphey School, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $18 ($14 students, seniors 65+, and active-duty military personnel), except $5 Student Rush Tickets (available at the door 5 minutes before the curtain) and $10 tickets on Thursdays and for groups of 10 or more. 919/834-4001 or etix through the presenter's website. Burning Coal Theatre Company: http://www.burningcoal.org/index.html. Video Preview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=De_9Bc0RS50 [inactive 8/08]. Study Guide for Crowns (from the McCarter Theatre): http://www.mccarter.org/Education/crowns/crownsstudyguide.html. Regina Taylor: http://www.ibdb.com/person.asp?ID=109792 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0853040/ (Internet Movie Database). The Coffee-Table Book: http://www.randomhouse.com/ [inactive 12/08].