If you think about the expression "Dress for success," and apply it to the many people who no longer dress up to attend Sunday church services, it might say something about today's lack of faith in so many people.
It used to be that anyone dressed far too casual, especially those prone to wearing summer attire to church, would likely hear a "general reminder" from the minister at the pulpit.
Regina Taylor has all of this figured out, set to music and sewn into a beautiful story of hope, redemption and hats for her 10th anniversary run of "Crowns," now at Goodman Theatre through Aug. 12.
Based on the book by Craig Marberry with photographs by Michael Cunningham, Taylor's "Crowns" has distinguished itself as the most-produced new musical in the U.S. over the past decade. More than 1 million audience members have attended productions in 40-plus cities across the country and Canada.
It's a celebration of the individuality of the human spirit and what is passed down from generation to generation, while tracing the roots of gospel music through contemporary hip hop, fusing rich storytelling for a stirring coming-of-age tale.
When Yolanda, played with passion and just the right about of resistance by actress Marketta P. Wilder, is sent from her home in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood 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 which reveal details of their distinct personalities.
The cast includes E. Faye Butler who provides a head-turning and entertaining performance as Mabel, the minster's wife who thinks some women at church wear skirts that are too short and purposely sit in the front row.
Felicia P. Fields, our actress claim-to-fame from Blue Island and Tony-nominated for "The Color Purple," is the sun of this show, with every other actress orbiting her like planets.
She plays Mother Shaw, the guiding light for the angry and confused 17-year-old in her care. Fields has a voice and stage timing that are beyond compare.
Alexis J. Rogers, as Jeanette, and Pauletta Washington, as Wanda, are wonderful and gifted for song and dance, as is Jasondra Johnson, as Velma. I'm told the latter were cast from what was hundreds of hopefuls during Taylor's open audition for emerging Chicago talent. Also featured is David Jennings, who effortlessly transforms in dual roles as the preacher and other male identities.
Taylor's newly-created five-member ensemble features Chicago talents Shari Addison, Melanie Brezill, Kelvin Roston, Yusha-Marie Sorzano and Laura Walls.
The other stars who help give life to this turn of "Crowns" are set designer Maruti Evans, who incorporates more than 100 ladies hats floating about the stage during some moments, and glorious costume design by Karen Perry.
Fields' Mother Shaw character sums the show's lesson up nicely with these words: "Our crowns are bought and paid for. All we have to do is wear them."
Tickets to "Crowns" are $29 to $88 at GoodmanTheatre.org or at the box office at 170 N. Dearborn or call (312) 443-3800. The performance is 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.
And for all those Red Hat Ladies and church groups, discounted group tickets for 10 persons or more are available at (312) 443-3820.
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