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Rep’s ‘Crowns’ is where it’s ‘hat’

Lawrence Hamilton directs an energetic gospel musical starting Friday.


'CROWNS': Rep glory.
  • 'CROWNS': Rep glory.

“Crowns,” described as a joyous celebration of black women and their church hats, opens Friday at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.

The rounding gospel musical, written by Regina Taylor and directed at the Rep by Arkansas native and Broadway performer Lawrence Hamilton, will run through Feb. 19 on the Rep’s Main Stage. Friday’s opening-night show begins at 8 p.m. and includes a post-show reception with the cast. Showtimes are at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Wednesday through the run of the show.

This weekend also will mark one of those rare occasions when the Rep will have two shows being performed at once — “Towns Facing Railroads,” a play based on the poetry of Arkansas native Jo McDougall, continues through Sunday on the Rep’s small-box Second Stage.

Hamilton says the characters in “Crowns” remind him of his days as a child attending church in Southwest Arkansas. The characters “take me back to a time when my grandmothers, mother, aunts and cousins lived, a time that lives on today.”

Hamilton directs a cast of seven, all making their Rep debuts: Chaundra Cameron, Joilet F. Harris, C. Mingo Long, Barbara D. Mills, chandra thomas, Lumiri Tubo and NaTasha Yvette Williams. Cameron, Mills and thomas have appeared in various regional productions of “Crowns.” Harris plays Detective Caroline Massey on the HBO series “The Wire.”

“Crowns,” adapted from the best-selling book of the same title, features stories of family and faith, love and loss and finding one’s true identity, told through oral histories blended with gospel classics such as “Oh When the Saints Go Marching In,” “We’re Marching to Zion” and “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.”

Craig Marberry, a former television reporter who helped photographer Michael Cunningham with his collection of photographs that eventually became the book “Crowns,” will appear at the Rep on Sunday, Feb. 5, for a pre-show discussion at 6 p.m. Regina Taylor, who starred in the TV series “I’ll Fly Away,” adapted the story for the stage after Marberry passed along the idea of a musical to the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N.J. It opened at the McCarter in 2002. Today, it’s one of the most produced musicals in regional theater.

Hamilton will be on hand for a pre-show discussion before a sneak preview of the show on Thursday, Jan. 26, starting at 7:15 p.m. A limited number of half-priced tickets are available for the show.

Regular ticket prices are $30 for orchestra seating, $28 for first mezzanine and $20 for second mezz. Call 378-0405 or 866-684-3737 or visit the Rep’s website online at www.therep.org.

The Rep will have a lobby display of local women’s church hats, on loan from the Little Rock Chapter of The Links Inc., throughout the musical’s run.

Author Marberry will also appear at Hendrix College Feb. 4-6 for the panel discussion “Crowns: Searching for Faith and Drama,” sponsored by the Hendrix-Lilly Vocations Initiative and the Hendrix Department of Theatre Arts and Dance, and a lecture on his book, “Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats.” Both events are free. The panel discussion is Saturday, Feb. 4, from 8:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Mills A (reservations are required and light lunch will be served; call 501-450-4590). The lecture is Monday, Feb. 6, at 7 p.m. in Mills A (no reservation required).


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