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Hit Musical Crowns Returns to Arena Stage

Edith Billups | 4/22/2009, 4:05 p.m.

€Crowns,€ the hit musical about African American women and their church hats, has returned to the Arena Stage with an all new cast, new costumes, new musical arrangements and new set design.

Based on actress Regina Taylor€s adaptation of the book, Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats, the musical, playing through April 26th at The Lincoln Theatre, is a sassy, up-beat journey into the ritual that thousands of African American women embark on each Sunday morning as they prepare for church. The adorning of the head with elaborate material is a carryover from Africa, imbued with historical and cultural significance.

€Crowns€ is a 95-minute educational experience for theatergoers-of all cultural backgrounds- that focuses on the fact that head decoration, among African Americans, is more than just a reflection of style. Indeed, it speaks to attitude, praise, and family pride.

Included in the production are several show-stopping songs, and this new cast steps up to the plate, serving up humor, wisdom, and an abundance of €Mother-wit€.

This new Arena Stage production features Mary Millben (Wanda); Kara-Tameika Watkins (Jeanette); Marva Hicks (Velma); Zurin Villanueva (Yolanda); Natasha Yvette Williams (Mabel); and E. Faye Butler (Mother Shaw). Phillip Boykin (Man) rounds out the talented cast.

The group raises the rafters with fabulous gospel music, blues, rap and hip hop. Marva Hick€s rendering of €His Eye is on the Sparrow€ is moving, soulful, and a definite highlight, and Romero Wyatt on the percussions provides the perfect rhythms for this fast-moving, head bopping show.

The remaining cast each bring their own magic to the table, with the women giving the history of €hattitude€ in the African American community, and how a hat can nod, chastise, or flirt. Howard University student, Zurin Villanueva, makes her Arena Stage debut as Yolanda, the young teen who, initially, can€t understand her grandmother€s penchant for hats, but who soon learns how they can even be healing, in their own way. Villanueva plays the teen softer than previous actresses who have played the character of Yolanda, making her more vulnerable and less of a tomboy.

This latest production of €Crowns€ is Arena Stage€s fourth staging of the popular musical, and a first at the historic Lincoln Theatre. On U Street, where the likes of such icons as Duke Ellington and Billie Holliday once played to elegantly-dressed, sold-out, Black audiences, it seems fitting that €Crowns€ would be playing on the street once heralded as D.C.€s Black Broadway.

Following the play, check out the fabulous millinery available for purchase near the lobby area, creative styles that will make a hat queen gasp in awe.

To purchase tickets, visit www.arenastage.org. The Lincoln Theatre is at 1215 U St., NW.