A transcendent 'Crowns' at IRT 

They're not called "Hat Queens" for nothing. Their crowns are their hats, and their hats are as bold and as vibrant as any tiara or crown jewel. Made from straw and lace, fur and feathers, these hats symbolize not only the glamour of fashion, but the history of tradition.

This is the brilliant inspiration that director and choreographer Patdro Harris brings to Golden Globe-winner Regina Taylor's Crowns at the Indiana Repertory Theatre's Mainstage. And what better opening weekend than Easter for a spiritual musical about black women and their hats.

The story follows a Brooklyn teen, Yolanda (Shannon Antalan), as she is sent away to live with her grandmother (Chandra Currelley) in the South, after her brother's violent death. There she is dragged to church and introduced to the Hat Queens, women of dignity and tradition, who would not be seen in church without hats on their heads. From these august women, Yolanda learns the value of faith and tradition, and reconnects with her African heritage.

The production is next to flawless. Currelley plays the venerable Mother Shaw with depth and majestic grace. Dennis W. Spears is delightfully versatile as the only man in the company, playing husband, father, teenager and reverend, all with charismatic vigor. The women's stories are interspersed among numerous hymns, gospel songs and even rap, all infused with African rhythms and dance, including a show-stopping performance of "His Eye is on the Sparrow" by Roz White that sent the audience into fits of jubilation.

The set is beautifully crafted, perfectly lit and adorned with hats. These hats, of course, steal the show with many styles and sizes and varying levels of ostentation. The superb costume design by Reggie Ray matches the vibrancy and royalty of the crowns.

But the hats were not meant only for the stage. The night I attended, before the show there was a red carpet reception for women to come and show off their chapeaus in high style. The event was hosted by the Circle City Chapter of Links Incorporated, an organization dedicated to helping men and women of African heritage. For those women without a hat, Doris Moore and Laura Pierce of Hair Metrick's Salon & Boutique provided a collection of hats, ranging in price from $10 to $200.

This production of Crowns transcends. Rooted in history and raised in the tradition of hymn and gospel, this show lifts the audience to amazing heights. Heights beyond even the reach of the tallest of hats.

Crowns continues through May 2 at the IRT. Call 317-635-5252 for tickets, $29-$49 ($19 for students and children 18 and under), or go to www.irtlive.com.

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