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"Crowns" a splendid show at Capital Rep

By Thom O'Connor
Monday, March 14, 2011

My last attempt at fan mail was a 1967 note to Barbara Walters, then co-anchor of NBC’s long-running "Today Show." She had won my heart, I told her, and every day I was late for work at United Artists Television rather than miss a minute of the show. (Yes. She did reply! And, yes, then-boss Mel Bernstein tolerated my lateness/devotion!)

But driving home from the opening night of "Crowns" at Capital Repertory Theatre, I could not quell the excitement of the evening nor stop the flood of thoughts that auto-formatted into a note to Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, producing artistic director, and her wonderful cast. What a night!

Although I had been promoting the show, I had never seen it and was not prepared for the splendid night of theatre that unfolded. A high-energy, gifted and generous cast rendered every character portrayed in "Crowns" with clarity and authenticity. The simple staging, apt scenery and splendid costumes were in sync; the choreography energizing; the music – well, the show unfolds to sounds that are hand-clapping, head-nodding wonderful – delivered by the beautiful mix of richly potent voices telling the story in words and emotionally compelling songs.

Adapted from the acclaimed book of the same name by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry, "Crowns" was the most produced musical in America in 2006 and the winner of four Helen Hayes Awards, including Best Regional Musical.

Author/playwright Regina Taylor’s gospel-infused musical sensation provided a rollicking good time at Capital Rep as Brooklyn-born Yolanda (Joyel Kaleel) relocates to the South after the death of her brother. She finds strength in the tales of the wise women who surround her and in the powerful rituals associated with their array of dazzling hats. Fusing the music of the South with rich storytelling, inspired stagecraft and abundant “hattitude,” "Crowns" is a jubilant celebration of song, dance, cultural history and glamorous headwear.

Almost involuntarily, fellow audience members shared our mutual delight with "Crowns": I sat off to the side and the 30 people around me seemed to know every word of every song and either mouthed them or whispered them, clapped their hands, swayed and murmured consent to the truisms and life-lessons stated by the actors. I heard the word “Amen” more that night than in a lifetime of Lenten novenas and only my pale-faced embarrassment kept me from leaping to my feet to testify .

As if that were not enough, the 7:30 opening night was preceded by a soulful hour of gospel-inspired music from V.O.I.C.E.S. under the exuberant musical direction of Patty Gordon. Victorious Only In Christ’s Eternal Salvation is a collaboration of vocalists committed to spreading the gospel through the ministry of song. The members of V.O.I.C.E.S. are joined in their immediate or extended relationship with the Church of God of Prophecy family, which is located in more than 130 nations worldwide. The Albany chapter of V.O.I.C.E.S. is associated with the Church of God of Prophecy on Madison Avenue.

“V.O.I.C.E.S. is a multi-talented ministry that includes singers, songwriters, recording artists, and simple lovers of anointed music,” says Gordon. “Although musical performance is entertaining and enjoyable, the mission of V.O.I.C.E.S. is to see lives transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Individually and together, the choir transformed those picking up tickets for the "Crowns" performance – and stopped some in their tracks as they entered the lobby of Capital Rep. Had the night ended with the choir, it would have been a memorable night.

Earlier this year when Proctors and Capital Rep issued a joint statement that they had joined forces to sustain the state of the performing arts in the region, I was uncertain what that really meant. But watching the full flight of Proctors personnel on hand to help and better understand the processes and audience of Capital Rep, I knew one thing for sure. The excitement generated by "Crowns" can only be good news for both organizations and for those of the Capital Region who love theatre.

To repeat a conversation I relayed to Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill before leaving the theatre, a man walking beside me asked if there would be other chances to see "Crowns." I explained that this was just the opening night and that the show was slated to run through April 3. He said that he had to tell friends about it. I agreed and added that with every performance the show would get even better.

"Can't get any better than what I saw here tonight," he said.

We laughed in agreement.

Read the reviews in this paper and elsewhere. Then, see for yourself: There is real intimacy and infectious joy at Capital Rep – on both sides of the footlights.

Thom O’Connor works at Proctors and sometimes has too much fun!

To learn even more about Proctors, visit www.Proctors.org or click HERE.

 
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