top of page


“Sometimes under those hats there’s a lot of joy and a lot of sorrow,” wrote American novelist James Baldwin, a line at the heart of the spiritually rousing “Crowns,”

Review by Vince Mediaa

The Margret Lesher stage at the Center REP has been converted into a Baptist church by award winning designer Nina Ball. This is the perfect celebration for the CenterREPs season opener. The colorful Hats and CROWNS is now on stage through Oct 6th. Playwright Regina Taylor’s gospel musical is a homage to the church hats worn by African-American women every Sunday in most cities. These “crowns” serve as a theme of self-expression and the passion for their faith. This is a tradition originating in Africa, it honors the dignity and endurance of urban women of color.

Regina Taylor's adaptation of the book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry is a feel-good "gospel musical" about a sort of reverse intervention into a young woman's life by a wonderful group of "hat queens" in rural South Carolina. You don’t need to like hats to love this musical - The gospel is the heart of this soundtrack. CROWNS is based on a book of the same name by photographer Michael Cunningham and journalist Craig Marberry that shares portraits of urban women in glamorous church hats with stories from the women's lives. Actress and playwright Regina Taylor, read the book and was impressed by the stories mixed with a handful of classic hymns and some warm mythology from western Africa to produce a celebration of faith and resilience.

The musical follows a Brooklyn teenager named Yolanda played by the stunning Antonia Reed, who is sent to live with her grandmother to learn faith and tradition. Set in a typical contemporary Southern church, the story follows the troubled 17-year old teen who moves in with her grandmother in South Carolina, following the death of her brother. Reed opens the 90 minute story with the song “Rap” that explodes into “In The Morning” with the cast of women and “The Man” featuring the award honored marvelous Darryl V Jones. Every number is hand clapping and inspiring under the music direction of Leigh Scarritt and the tuneful on stage band featuring Andrew Jamieson on keys and Ken Bergmann on percussion.

Yolanda is angry at her grandmother and the pompousness of the church ladies she meets, but eventually she realizes that they use their hats to express their creativity and power. The songs “Saints” and “Marching to Zion” celebrate the passion of the women and enlighten young Yolanda. CROWNS features choreography by Kendra Barnes, scenic design by the award winning Nina Ball, costume design by Ulises Alcala, sound design by Lyle Barrere, lighting design by Ben Rawson, props design by Alyssa Tryon, that include many fans and hand bags and of course the amazing hats. Technical supervision by Kelly James Tighe and his team who make each player easy to understand and their voices sore through the Margaret Lesher Theatre.

The eye candy hats were created by costume designer Ulises Alcala, and each Crown tells a story they are all expressive. Alcala outfitted Taylor’s characters with a colorful array of Sunday clothes, from modest fedoras to flower-laden extravagances, which they use to tell stories of poverty, faith, community, and self-expression. One tale begins with a busy red feather beaming from a Crown “Girl! You are wearing that hat” - “I am about to fly away with this feather”. The stories are mostly funny, sometimes sad, and always moving. “Oh Lord I'm Waitin on You” is a powerful song that will bring you to tears. The urban American women whose hats proclaim their honor, grandeur and power are the soul of this musical. The cast features all gifted singers, and that includes show stoppers; Constance Lopez earned whoops and shouts during opening week with a beautiful vibrato. Janelle LaSalle shook the floorboards with her brassy tenor; and Juanita Harris as the revivalist Mother Shaw is a show stopper during the company song “Oh Lord I'm Waitin on You”.

The dance is hand clapping inspiring choreographed by the ideal Kendra Kimbrough Barnes creates a traditional passion on stage that is always uplifting. The award honored Darrel V. Jones, plays all the male roles a every man mentioned by the hat-wearing women with a distinguished enthusiasm, “You only have one head” he brings extraordinary flair and energy to gospel strutting and hip-hop breakdowns. Director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg directs with grace, dynamics and passion with enthusiasm and that uplifting gospel energy. The women deliver riveting interpretations of their characters, and each a gem of a singer and performance. Erica Richardson as Wanda is bold and brassy, Phaedra Tillery-Boughton is graceful, funny and stylish. And, of course, they all know how to wear a hat, the perfect “Hat Queens”.

Alcala’s costumes range from simple, elegant and sophisticated to colorful hip hop. Yolanda is dressed in a bright orange and red theme and keeps that look for the 90 minutes - except for the hats she gets to try on. CROWNS excels in the triumphant nature of the experience. The church ladies are poignant, and often very serious. “A couple of ladies in church have even asked to wear it, but I’d lend my children before I’d lend my hats,” says one of the “Hat Queens.” “I know my children know their way home, but my hats might not.” Yolanda closes the celebration “All these hats are the crowns we wear”. CROWNS is a great way to begin you fall 2023 theatre season, A MUST SEE and come wearing your best Sunday bonnet or sports cap.


CROWNS By Regina King Adapted from the book by Michael Cunningham

and Craig Marberry

Directed by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg,

Music Director Leigh Scarritt,

Choreographer Paige Mayes

Must Close October 6, 2023

Lesher Center for the Arts,

1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek

Photos by Kevin Bernes


Antonia Reed -Yolanda, Darryl V. Jones* - The Man, Janelle LaSalle* - Jeanette, Constance Jewell Lopez* - Velma Phaedra Tillery-Boughton* -Mabel, Juanita Harris - Mother Shaw, Yaadi Erica Richardson - Wanda


Delicia Turner Sonnenberg - Director, Leigh Scarritt Music Director

Kendra Kimbrough Barnes - Choreographer, Nina Ball - Scenic Designer

Ben Rawson - Lighting Designer, Ulises Alcala - Costume Designer,

Lyle Barrere - Sound Designer, Kelly James Tighe -Technical Supervisor

Alyssa Tryon - Prop Designer, Paige Mayes - Assistant Choreographer

Phaedra Tillery-Boughton - Equity Dance Captain, Jacqueline Dennis

Wig Designer


Featured Posts
Recent Posts
bottom of page