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Review: CROWNS at Sankofa African American Theatre Company At Open Stage

See this gospel musical now through June 26th.

Review: CROWNS at Sankofa African American Theatre Company At Open Stage

Sankofa African American Theatre Company and Open Stage bring the Helen Hayes Award winning musical Crowns to the stage through June 26th. Crowns, written by Regina Taylor, based on the book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry, takes audiences on an emotional journey, using hats as a motif for exploring Black history and identity. The story begins with an introduction to Yolanda, a young woman from Brooklyn who, after her brother is shot and killed, is sent to live with relatives in the South.

Under the direction of Sharia Benn, with vocal direction by Cheryl Hawkins and music direction by Nicholas Werner, Sankofa and Open Stage deliver a heartfelt and uplifting production of Crowns.

The first thing audiences experience when they enter the theatre is an array of various hats, framed by a stained-glass window. The simple set serves to keep the audience's attention focused on the cast as they tell a variety of stories that give Yolanda and the audience glimpses into the history and culture of African Americans in the South. This cast is comprised of superb storytellers who use their voices, facial expressions, and movement to draw the audience into the performance.

Jasmine Graham gives a stellar performance as Yolanda, a woman attempting to find her place in the world after the death of her brother. Graham's beautiful, clear voice is showcased particularly well in "One of Them". Graham also handles the emotion of the role with finesse, bringing the audience to tears when she describes her relationship with her brother and how his death impacted her. In a week that held so many news reports of horrific shootings, this part of the storyline is particularly salient, and this production deals with it in a delicate and authentic way.

Another stand-out performance in this production is given by Regina Gail Malloy, who takes on the role of Mother Shaw. Malloy's interactions with the other cast members, especially with Graham's Yolanda, are riveting. Her voice soars on the soprano descants seemingly effortlessly, and her storytelling is engaging and moving.

Many of the other cast members take on multiple roles throughout the performance as their characters tell the stories of their shared history. Diane Hetes, Latoya Dallas, Paula J. Lewis-Roman, Breanne Sensenig, and Steven Ross act out the stories through word, movement, and song, bringing them to life for Yolanda and the audience.

The music is woven throughout the show, highlighting the emotions of the stories. The harmonies are gorgeous, particularly in "Marching to Zion", "Wade in the Water", and "Amen". The entire cast seems to truly feel the songs they sing, leading the audience to experience the emotion along with them. It's impossible to watch this production and not find oneself swaying, clapping and even tearing up as the emotions take hold.

The most remarkable part of this production is the way in which it tackles heavy and complicated themes in a way that leaves the audience with an overwhelming feeling joy and hope that unites and uplifts. Crowns is an inspiring show that you won't want to miss. Visit®id=194& for tickets.

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