Glorious musical portraits at Pasadena Playhouse

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Not so much a play as an evening of intersecting monologues and musical interludes, “Crowns” offers an insight into several generations of southern gentility and the female experience. This revival is currently being staged at the Pasadena Playhouse, in co-production with Ebony Repertory Theatre, until August 16.

The cast of Crowns. Photo: Craig Schwartz

The cast of Crowns. Photo: Craig Schwartz

Winner of four Helen Hayes awards, including Best Regional Musical, Regina Taylor’s musical – actually based on an acclaimed coffee table book – explores the lives of the “hat queens,” six women in the South whose stories of love, loss, identity and sisterhood are inextricably woven into the hats that crown their heads and the songs that speak their truth.

Israel Hicks directs a superb cast of seven. The show stars Sharon Catherine Blanks as Velma, Vanessa Bell Calloway as Jeanette, Suzzanne Douglas as Wanda, Paula Kelly as Mother Shaw, Angela Wildflower Polk as Yolanda, and Ann Weldon as Mabel.  Clinton Derricks-Carroll multi-tasks as “Man,” playing everything from James Brown-inspired Preacher to husband to boyfriend.

We are reminded that during this country’s dark history of black oppression, church was the only place people of color were allowed to congregate. Hence, Sunday’s church service was more than just a holy gathering, it was also an opportunity to socialize with your community. For some, it was also an opportunity to turn heads with your fabulous hat!

Angela Flower-Polk (L) and Paula Kelly (R).  Photo: Craig Schwartz

Angela Flower-Polk (L) and Paula Kelly (R). Photo: Craig Schwartz

This is a soulful musical, underpinned by the glorious and exultant themes of gospel. The six women take turns in repositioning themselves on the sparsely furnished stage – just ladders and ladders of stunning hats adorn the set – and declaim their stories, recalling their youth and favorite memories.  When each bursts into song, their voices are powerful and compelling.

The first time all six women don a fancy hat, we are treated to a jazzy rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

A cooler-than-cool three-piece jazz outfit of percussion (Derf Reklaw), piano (Eric Scott Reed) and upright bass (Trevor Ware) are positioned just below the stage, off to one side of the auditorium. These clearly experienced musicians bring to the show a modern jazzy vibe, infused with African rhythms, and keep things lively with their impeccable performance.

“Crowns” captures the thrill of self-expression with a series of intimate musical portraits. Hurry to this one if you like your storytelling accompanied by great songs and brilliant music.

The Pasadena Playhouse 39 South El Molino Avenue in Pasadena. Runs until August 16 Tuesdays through Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Tickets range from $32.00 – $67.00. (626) 356-7529 Ebony Repertory Theatre

Pauline Adamek is a Hollywood-based film, theater, and food critic who writes for FilmInk Australia, the Los Angeles Daily News and the Sun Community Newspapers, as well as various websites under the “nom du net” Max Million. Contact her at

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.