Photo of (L to R) Gretha Boston as Velma, Karole Foreman as Jeanette, and B. J. Crosby as Mabel
(L to R) Gretha Boston as Velma,
Karole Foreman as Jeanette,
and B. J. Crosby as Mabel
Photo: Terry Shapiro
It's only fitting that Regina Taylor's Crowns closes out DCTC artistic director Kent Thompson's inaugural year that began with Arthur Miller's All My Sons. From beginning to end, the season was filled with incisive political and social commentary—much of it from new minority and women's voices—and punctuated with highlights, both comedic and tragic, from the classical canon.

With a nod to his Baptist roots, Thompson's choice of Crowns has all the spiritual trappings of a revival, but without any of the heavy-handed religious pomposity that so often accompanies the form in situ.

Photo of Uzo Aduba as Yolanda
Uzo Aduba as Yolanda
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Although the first couple of scenes left us wondering whether there was enough through line for a plot to develop, eventually the cumulative glimpses of young Yolanda's gradual conversion from ghetto-generated hopelessness to spiritual fulfillment provide a believable and pleasing catharsis that supports an extraordinary evening of stories and spirituals.

Photo of Barbara D. Mills as Mother Shaw
Barbara D. Mills as Mother Shaw
Photo: Terry Shapiro
The drama is organized around an in-depth look at the exotic hats worn by church-going women and the remembrances generated by these heirlooms. And oh what hats! Festooned with every imaginable decorative item, from feathers to fruit and ribbons and bows, the colors, shape, and sheer size of some of these creations are nothing less than astounding.

Photo of Tony Award winner Gretha Boston as Velma
Tony Award winner Gretha Boston
as Velma
Photo: Terry Shapiro
As great as the storytelling and Kevin Copenhaver's costumes are, the spirituals are even better. Director Kent Gash and musical director Ron Metcalf have put together a perfect blend of character and voice and the results are chilling, as witnessed by the call and response interplay between the actors and the audience.

The deep, tremulous voice of Barbara D. Mills leads the ensemble through more than two dozen numbers including "In the Morning," "When the Saints Go Marchin' In," "I'm On the Battlefield for My Lord," "His Eye is On the Sparrow," "Mary Don't You Weep," "Take Me to the Water," and "I've Got Joy Like a Fountain."

Photo of C. E. Smith as the Man and Karole Foreman as Jeanette
C. E. Smith as the Man
and Karole Foreman as Jeanette
Photo: Terry Shapiro
The rest of the ensemble is equally inspirational, including: C.E. Smith as the preacher, the father, and other men as needed; Uzo Aduba as Yolanda, whose well-formed arc from troubled teen to fulfilled young woman underscores the dramatic argument; Tony Award winner Gretha Boston as Velma, whose resonant vocals pinned us to our seats; B.J. Crosby as the devout Mabel whose "It's Real or Faith" delivers Yolanda "across the Jordan"; and Karole Foreman and Rosa Curry whose soulful dancing to Byron Easley's fluid choreography set our heart a-pounding.

Emily Beck's simple, yet majestic set is elegantly transformed from scene-to-scene by William H. Grant III's inventive lighting schemes, while Craig Breitenbach's sound design amplifies the dramatic details.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's production of Crowns runs through June 18th. 303-893-4100.

Bob Bows


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