CROWNS, Goodman Theater. What joyful noise is made by Regina Taylor’s soulful ensemble of six sisters with “hattitude” (and one man). Taylor adapted and directs her own musical version of Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats, a book of Michael Cunningham photographs accompanied by Craig Marberry’s oral histories. The women reveal their stories through their relationships with–and pride in–their hats, which serve as status symbols, security blankets, and metaphors for loved ones lost. Sobering civil rights scenes make up the backstory.
Taylor has created the character of a teenager from Brooklyn, Yolanda (Desiré DuBose), who moves south to live with her grandmother after her brother is killed during an argument with a friend. Prickly and distant, she feigns indifference to compensate for her sadness and isolation. She wants to be back in Brooklyn where nobody cares what you do. But caring is what Crowns is all about. Gradually Yolanda is won over, enveloped by the culture and expectations of the women who embrace her.
But it’s the music that’s the play’s transcendent achievement. The gospel-driven score resounds with one hip-swaying, hand-clapping number after another. Musicians e’Marcus Harper and David Pleasant, performing onstage near the wings, deserve crowns themselves.