Photo Flash: First Look at E. Faye Butler et al. in Goodman Theatre's CROWNS

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Goodman Theatre Artistic Associate and "triple threat" Playwright/Director/Actor ReGina Taylor brings her musical Crowns, based on the book by Craig Marberry with photographs by Michael Cunningham, back to the Goodman stage. For her all-new 10th anniversary production, Taylor has engaged community partners and used workshops to explore and deepen the spoken word, dance and music elements in Crowns. Crowns runs now through August 5, 2012 (Opening Night is July 9) in the Goodman's Albert Theatre. Get a first look at the cast on stage in the photos below!

The ensemble cast includes several "leading ladies" of the American theater, including E. Faye Butler as Mabel, Felicia Fields (Tony-nominated for The Color Purple) as Mother Shaw, Alexis Rogers as Jeanette and Pauletta Washington as Wanda; newcomers JaSondra Johnson (Velma) and Marketta P. Wilder (Yolanda) were cast from hundreds of hopefuls in Taylor's open audition for emerging Chicago actors.

Also featured is David Jennings as the preacher, and Taylor's newly-created five-member ensemble features Chicago talents including Shari Addison, Melanie Brezill, Kelvin Roston, Yusha-Marie Sorzano and Laura Walls. The creative team includes music director Fred Carl, projection designer Maya Ciarrocchi, set designer Maruti Evans, choreographer Dianne McIntyre, costume designer Karen Perry, lighting designer Ken Posner and sound designer Richard Woodbury.

A celebration of the individuality of the human spirit-and what is passed down from generation to generation- Crowns has distinguished itself as the most-produced new musical in the US over the past decade. More than one million audience members have reveled in this production, in 40+ cities across the country and Canada. Crowns traces the roots of Gospel music through contemporary hip hop, fusing rich storytelling with abundant "hattitude" into a stirring coming-of-age tale. When Englewood-born Yolanda is sent down South after the death of her brother, she finds strength in the tales of the wise women who surround her-and the powerful rituals connected to their dazzling hats.

"Having recently moved here, I wanted Chicago to be part of the story," said ReGina Taylor. We're adding new original music and commissioned spoken word pieces to complement the gospel music, and I'm framing the piece around Yolanda. I'm interested in the ways in which stories and storytelling connect us to our community, and am in dialogue with the teenage poets of Louder Than a Bomb-to connect with the 'Yolandas' in Chicago and give an outlet for their voices-and students of Columbia College to develop the dance vocabulary, alongside our fantastic choreographer Dianne McIntyre. As it's living on the stage, I hope that Crowns will live outside of the theater and speak to those different areas in Chicago."

ReGina Taylor's body of work encompasses film, television, theater and writing. She is best known to television audiences for her role as Lilly Harper in the series I'll Fly Away, for which she won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a TV Series, an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, and two Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Taylor most recently starred in the CBS drama hit The Unit, for which she won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama. Other television credits include the movie Strange Justice in the role of Anita Hill, for which she earned both a Peabody and a Gracie Award. Her film credits include The Negotiator, Courage Under Fire, A Family Thing, The Keeper, Clockers, Losing Isaiah, Jersey Girl and Lean on Me. Taylor also holds the honor of being the first black woman to play Juliet on Broadway in Romeo and Juliet. Her credits as playwright include Oo-Bla-Dee, for which she won the American Critics' Association new play award, Drowning Crow (her adaptation of Chekhov's The Seagull), The Trinity River Plays (Edgerton Award), The Dreams of Sarah Breedlove, A Night in Tunisia, Escape from Paradise, Magnolia, Watermelon Rinds and Inside the Belly of the Beast.

Goodman Theatre, "the leading regional theater in the nation's most important theater city" (TIME Magazine), is a major cultural, educational and economic pillar in Chicago, generating nearly $300 million in economic impact over the past decade in its state-of-the-art two-theater complex on North Dearborn Street. Founded in 1925 and currently under the leadership of Artistic Director Robert Falls, "Chicago's most essential director" (Chicago Tribune), and Executive Director Roche Schulfer, Chicago's oldest and largest not-for-profit resident theater has welcomed nearly two million patrons to productions and events-including 10 festivals celebrating playwrights such as David Mamet, August Wilson and Horton Foote, as well as the biennial Latino Theatre Festival-and served legions of students through its Education and Community Engagement programs (including the FREE Student Subscription Series and other interactive programs). The Goodman has earned more than 90 awards for hundreds of productions, including the Pulitzer Prize for Ruined by Lynn Nottage-one of 25 new-work Goodman commissions in the last decade. Ruth Ann M. Gillis is the Chairman of Goodman Theatre's Board of Trustees and Joan Clifford is President of the Women's Board.

For tickets and more information, visit GoodmanTheatre.org, like the theatre on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter. And for more on CROWNS, visit CrownstheGospelMusical.com and check out photos of the show in rehearsal here.

Photo credit: Liz Lauren

Photo Flash: First Look at E. Faye Butler et al. in Goodman Theatre's CROWNS

Photo Flash: First Look at E. Faye Butler et al. in Goodman Theatre's CROWNS
Mother Shaw (Felicia P. Fields) and Yolanda (Marketta P. Wilder)

Photo Flash: First Look at E. Faye Butler et al. in Goodman Theatre's CROWNS
Pauletta Washington as Wanda

Photo Flash: First Look at E. Faye Butler et al. in Goodman Theatre's CROWNS
Felicia P. Fields as Mother Shaw (center) with ensemble members Shari Addison, Yusha-Marie Sorzano and Laura Walls

Photo Flash: First Look at E. Faye Butler et al. in Goodman Theatre's CROWNS
E. Faye Butler as Mabel

Photo Flash: First Look at E. Faye Butler et al. in Goodman Theatre's CROWNS
Alexis J. Rogers as Jeanette

Photo Flash: First Look at E. Faye Butler et al. in Goodman Theatre's CROWNS
JaSondra Johnson (Velma) demonstrates “hattitude�

Photo Flash: First Look at E. Faye Butler et al. in Goodman Theatre's CROWNS
(Center) Marketta P. Wilder as Yolanda

Photo Flash: First Look at E. Faye Butler et al. in Goodman Theatre's CROWNS
David Jennings as the Preacher

Photo Flash: First Look at E. Faye Butler et al. in Goodman Theatre's CROWNS
Kelvin Roston (Ensemble), Shari Addison (Ensemble), Melanie Brezill (Ensemble), Laura Walls (Ensemble), Marketta P. Wilder (Yolanda), Felicia P. Fields (Mother Shaw), Alexis J. Rogers (Jeanette), E. Faye Butler (Mabel), Pauletta Washington (Wanda) and JaSondra Johnson (Velma)

Photo Flash: First Look at E. Faye Butler et al. in Goodman Theatre's CROWNS
(Center) Yusha-Marie Sorzano (Ensemble) dances

Photo Flash: First Look at E. Faye Butler et al. in Goodman Theatre's CROWNS
(Center) Kelvin Roston (Ensemble) dances

Photo Flash: First Look at E. Faye Butler et al. in Goodman Theatre's CROWNS
Ensemble members Shari Addison, Melanie Brezill, Kelvin Roston and Laura Walls

Photo Flash: First Look at E. Faye Butler et al. in Goodman Theatre's CROWNS

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