Restaged & Redesigned CROWNS Comes To Arena Stage 3/27

Restaged & Redesigned CROWNS Comes To Arena Stage 3/27

Crowns is back in town, and with direction and choreography by Kenneth Lee Roberson (Broadway's Avenue Q, Arena's Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill) and musical direction by Grammy nominee e'Marcus Harper, this soulful musical will be bigger than ever in the Lincoln Theatre. Arena favorites Marva Hicks (The Women of Brewster Place) and E. Faye Butler (Dinah Was, Ain't Misbehavin') are joined by NaTasha Yvette Williams (Broadway's The Color Purple), Mary Millben, Kara Tameika Watkins, Phillip Boykin and Zurin VillanuevA. Howard University student Villanueva was discovered in Arena's January "Finding Yolanda" one-day casting search, and this production marks her debut professional performance.

Crowns runs March 27-April 26, 2009 at Arena Stage at the Lincoln Theatre. The press opening performance is Thursday, April 2, 2009 at 8:00 p.m.

"Crowns is a pageant, in the great African-American tradition of pageants," remarks Roberson. "This show teaches audiences about the values, style and grace of the African-American church community. Crowns demonstrates the handing down of culture from one generation to the next and celebrates the refuge, equality and healing that occurs in this place of spirituality."

"The beauty of Crowns is in the stories and the relationship between the women," notes Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith. "It's a show about community, and it beautifully articulates the ties that bind us all. We are particularly excited to stage this show at the Lincoln Theatre, the historical home of so many great African-American performers like Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday."

Written by ReGina Taylor and adapted from the acclaimed book by photographer Michael Cunningham and journalist Craig Marberry, Crowns takes an intimate look at six women whose storied lives are woven into the hats that adorn their heads. This gospel-infused musical presents an oral history of the African-American women affectionately known as "hat queens," as seen through the eyes of Yolanda, a Brooklyn teenager sent to live with her South Carolinian grandmother. Crowns features soulful, joyful music that celebrates family and faith.

This season's production marks the fourth staging of Crowns at Arena. The musical made its Arena debut during the 2003/04 season-winning four Helen Hayes Awards, including Best Resident Musical-and returned for a limited engagement that summer. Due to popular demand, Arena produced Crowns again in the summer of 2005.

Tickets for Crowns start at $25, plus applicable fees; for full ticketing information, please see below. 

Get Your Hat On! Hats will be available for purchase from returning vendors Theresa Banks' Designs by Theresa and Bernice Vaughan's Hat Lady ( in the lobby of the Lincoln before and after performances throughout the run of Crowns.

Crowning Glory Contest: Patrons have the chance to break out their "hattitude" and show off their lavish and unforgettable hats. To enter, patrons should send a picture of themselves in their most extravagant hats to An Arena staff member will then post all submitted pictures to the website. Deadline for entry is March 25. The grand prize winner, chosen by a panel of Arena jurors, will receive four orchestra level tickets to the opening night performance of Crowns on Thursday, April 2 at 8:00 p.m. and one Crowns poster signed by the cast. Two runners up will each receive one Crowns poster signed by the cast. Winners will be announced on the Arena website March 27.

Crowns Company Members

Kenneth Lee Roberson (Director & Choreographer) last choreographed She Loves Me at Arena Stage. Other Arena credits: Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill and Ain't Misbehavin' (dir/chor), Guys and Dolls and Thunder Knocking on the Door (chor). NY choreography credits: Avenue Q, All Shook Up and John Leguizamo's Freak (Broadway); Purlie (Encores); Harlem Song (Apollo); Drowning Crow (MTC) and Jelly's Last Jam (asst chor). Regional credits: Caroline, or Change (chor: Center Stage); Purlie (chor: Pasadena; Goodman); Once on This Island (dir/chor: Center Stage); Smokey Joe's Café (dir/chor: Alabama Shakespeare); and Spunk (dir/chor: Cincinnati Playhouse). TV/film credits: Lackawanna Blues (HBO); Preaching to the Choir; and John Leguizamo's House of Buggin' (Fox). Roberson has received an Emmy nom, two NAACP Achievement Awards, Lucille Lortel nom, Drama Desk nom, AUDELCO Award, NPT Spirit Award, NYSCA Award and Our Time Theater Lifetime Achievement Award.

e'Marcus Harper (Music Director) has been musical director for Crowns at ALLIANCE THEATRE, Arena Stage, Goodman Theatre, San Diego Rep, Studio Arena and Geva. Harper received a Grammy nom for Love Alive V: Bishop Walter L. Hawkins and the Love Center Choir/25th Reunion Project and an NAACP Theater Image Award nom for San Diego Rep's production of ‘da Kink in My Hair by Trey Anthony. Musical direction and vocal arrangement credits include 3 Mo' Divas, conceived by Marion J. Caffey, and DES production of The Wiz. Recording/performance/tour credits include gospel giants such as the late Rev. James Cleveland, the late Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, Tramaine, Shirley Ceasar and Rev. Donald Vails, as well as Michael Jackson, Lionel Ritchie, Little Richard, Billy Preston, Aretha Franklin, David Murray and Carlos Santana. Harper has premiered more than five City at Peace shows as composer and musical director and has served as associate artistic director for City at Peace.

E. Faye Butler (Mother Shaw) has performed at Arena in Ain't Misbehavin', Dinah Was and Polk County. Other DC: Saving Aimee, Gospel According to Fishman (Signature); Washington Ballet (Kennedy), also performing for Fidel Castro in Cuba. National tours: Mamma Mia; Ain't Misbehavin'; Don't Bother Me ...; Nunsense; Nunsense II; Dinah Was. Off-Broadway: Nunsense. Regional: Caroline, or Change, Trouble in Mind and Once on This Island at Baltimore's Center Stage, where she's artistic associate; Ella (Northlight; Dallas Theater); Crumbs from the Table of Joy (Steppenwolf); Purlie (Goodman; Pasadena); Wizard of Oz (Arkansas Rep); Caroline, or Change, Little Foxes, Once in a Lifetime, La Bête (Court); Millie (Lincolnshire); Wiz (La Jolla); Suessical (Chicago Shakespeare); Show Boat (Sacramento Circus); Trouble in Mind (Yale). She's received six Jeff Awards, three Black Theatre Alliance Awards, an After Dark Award, Helen Hayes Award, Rami Award, Barrymore Award, Excellence in the Arts Award and Ovation nom.

Marva Hicks (Velma) appeared at Arena in Thunder Knocking on the Door (Hayes Award), the world premiere of Cuttin' Up (also ALLIANCE THEATRE production) and most recently The Women of Brewster Place, co-produced with ALLIANCE THEATRE (Suzi Award). Last year Hicks portrayed Bess (Austin's Payne Award) in Zach Scott Theatre's jazz/blues Porgy and Bess. This past summer, she played in The First Breeze of Summer at New York's Signature Theatre. Broadway: Caroline, or Change; The Lion King; Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music. Off-Broadway: Thunder Knocking on the Door (Minetta Lane); Caroline, or Change (Public). TV: One Life to Live; Mad About You; Star Trek: Voyager; Sister, Sister. Film: Asunder, Virtuosity, Preaching to the Choir. Hicks has recorded on PolyGram and toured with Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston.

Mary Millben (Wanda), a presidential appointee in the Bush administration, has been a featured soloist for the White House, Queen Nor, Dr. Maya Angelou, Rudolph Giuliani, David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Sen. John McCain. She sang in the Barbra Streisand tribute at the 2008 Kennedy Center Honors and the National Symphony Orchestra Pops concert under Marvin Hamlisch. She was guest soloist for the Congressional Black Caucus Ceremonial Swearing-In, chorister for the Lincoln Memorial inaugural concert and backup singer for the Super Bowl halftime show with Bruce Springsteen. Credits include Hellzapoppin, Pirates of Penzance and Second Line (American Century).

Kara Tameika Watkins (Jeanette) has been seen locally at Olney Theater (Eubie!; Peter Pan), Bethesda Theater (Smokey Joe's Café), Studio Theater (Radio 1, Caroline, or Change), Round House Theater (Andrea, Once on This Island), Ford's Theater (Storyteller, Children of Eden), Signature Theater (Panacea, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum). Regional: North Shore Music Theater (Hairspray), American Heartland Theater (Ain't Misbehavin'). National: Las Vegas (Hairspray), Reno (Smokey Joe's Café), Baltimore (Menopause: The Musical).

Zurin Villanueva (Yolanda) joins Arena Stage for the first time for her debut professional role. She will be receiving her BFA in musical theater from Howard Univ. this May. Originally from Brooklyn, NY, Villanueva attended LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts.

NaTasha Yvette Williams (Mabel) has been seen on Broadway as Sofia in Oprah Winfrey's The Color Purple, as Mammy in the London West End production of Gone with the Wind and in Dessa Rose at Lincoln Center. National tours: All Shook Up (Sylvia), Seussical (Sour Kangaroo), Cinderella (Grace), Parade (Ensemble), The Goodbye Girl (Mrs. Crosby), Mahalia (Mahalia Jackson). Selected theater credits: Ain't Misbehavin' (Nell/Armelia), Dreamgirls (Effie), Abyssinia (Narrator). TV: One Life to Live, Live Sessions at Studio 54, Domestic Bliss, Bobby Jones New Artist Showcase. In 2004, Williams won the Kraft Foods New Voices of Gospel Talent Award and has recorded three albums.

Phillip Boykin (Man) has toured Europe, Asia, Australia, Russia, Poland and North America. Some performances include the national tour of Porgy and Bess (Joe), Ain't Misbehavin' (Ken/"Fats Waller"), Porgy and Bess (Crown/Jake), The Rape of Lucretia (Tarquinis), Jesus Christ Superstar (Caiaphas), Harlem Gospel Singers, Smokey Joe's Café (Fred), NY Harlem Singers, Black Nativity at the Kennedy Center and Così fan tutte (Don Alfonso).

This new springtime-inspired staging of Crowns features set design by Neil Patel, costume design by Austin K. Sanderson, light design by Nancy Schertler and sound design by Timothy Thompson. The production's musical contractor is Rita Eggert and stage manager is Amber Dickerson. Swings are Betty Carter and Lulu Fall (both cast from Arena's "Finding Yolanda" casting search) and Stephawn Stephens.

Crowns is sponsored by WJLA and News Channel 8.

Arena Stage's 2008/09 season is sponsored by The Family of H. Max and Josephine F. Ammerman, Andrew R. Ammerman, and Hubert (Hank) and Charlotte Schlosberg.

TICKETS: Tickets for Crowns start at $25, plus applicable fees. Discount tickets are available for patrons purchasing tickets for multiple shows, students and groups. A limited number of $10 tickets for patrons ages 30 and under go on sale beginning each Monday for performances that week. (All patrons must present valid ID.) HOTTIX, a limited number of half-price, day-of-performance tickets, are available 90 to 30 minutes before curtain of every performance. Tickets may be purchased online at, by phone at (202) 488-3300 or at the Arena Stage Sales Office at 1800 S. Bell Street, Arlington, VA 22202.

The Salon - Monday, March 30, 2009 at 7:00 p.m.
In the spirit of artistic and literary salons of the past, The Salon features artistic leaders from Arena Stage in a series of lively, in-depth conversations with the playwrights, actors, directors, designers, dramaturgs and audiences that make Arena Stage unique. The Salon is free to Arena Stage subscribers and donors ($75+) and only $3 for the general public. Reservations must be made through the Arena Stage Sales Office at (202) 488-3300.

Southwest Night - Friday, April 3, 2009 at 8:00 p.m.
An invitation is extended to our Southwest D.C. neighbors to buy $20 tickets, plus applicable fees, for one designated Friday evening performance of each production. Proof of Southwest D.C. residency or employment for each audience member of each party must be presented at the time of purchase. Tickets are limited to four per person and are based on availability. To purchase tickets, call (202) 488-3300 or stop by the Arena Stage Sales Office.

Out at Arena - Wednesday, April 8, 2009 at 7:30 p.m.
For gay and lesbian audiences on selected Wednesday evenings, a post-show discussion with cast members and a reception following the performance are offered. Reception is FREE for subscribers of the Out at Arena series.

Sales Office/Subscriptions (202) 488-3300
TTY for deaf patrons (202) 484-0247
Group Sales Hotline (202) 488-4380
Info for patrons with disabilities (202) 488-3300

Sunday, Tuesday & Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. (no evening show 4/14, 6:00 p.m. curtain 4/12, 8:00 p.m. curtain 4/21)
Thursday, Friday & Saturday at 8:00 p.m. (no evening show 4/23)
Saturday & Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m. (no matinee 4/12)
Weekday matinees at 12:00 p.m. on 4/8, 4/14 & 4/22

terpreted performances: Sunday 4/19 at 7:30 p.m.
Post-show discussions: 4/8 after 12:00 p.m. show, 4/14 after 12:00 p.m. show, 4/16 after 8:00 p.m. show, 4/21 after 8:00 p.m. show & 4/22 Theater Seminar after 12:00 p.m. show
Audio described performances: 4/15 at 7:30 p.m. & 4/18 at 2:00 p.m.
Open captioned performance: 4/22 at 7:30 p.m.


With construction well underway on the 47-year-old Southwest D.C. theater campus, Arena Stage has launched ARENA RESTAGED, a two-year festival celebrating the rich mosaic of our nation's voices. ARENA RESTAGED, which will lay the foundation for a new home for theater artists and audiences, will take place throughout the time it takes to finish the expansion of the new theater complex, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. At the Center, the two existing performance spaces-the Fichandler Stage and the Kreeger Theater-will be fully renovated and a new 200-seat space dedicated to premiering American theater, The Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle, will be added. Arena Stage at the Mead Center is scheduled to open for the 2010/11 season.

To allow for a timely and cost-effective renovation, Arena currently operates out of Arena Stage in Crystal City (1800 S. Bell Street, Arlington, VA) and at the historic Lincoln Theatre (1215 U Street, NW, Washington, D.C.). As information changes and/or becomes available throughout the transition, Arena will keep its website at as up to date as possible with Frequently Asked Questions, directions and other relevant information. Information on Arena Stage's 2008/09 season is also available online.

Related Articles

Washington, DC THEATER Stories | Shows  Like BWW DC  Follow BWW DC

From This Author BWW News Desk

Before you go...