The Human Race completes its 28th season of producing professional theatre for the Miami Valley with actress/playwright Regina Taylor‘s hit Crowns. Based on Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry‘s book by same name, the play begins as troubled Brooklyn teenager Yolanda is sent to live with her church-going grandmother down South after the death of her brother. There she finds healing in the personal stories of the ladies of the congregation and the hats that adorn their heads. Through time and space, their intimate histories create a soulful, joyous triumph of song, dance, culture and glorious “hattitude” in this powerhouse gospel musical like no other. The Human Race Theatre Company’s production runs tonight, June 11 – 28, 2015 at The Loft Theatre. It is co-directed by Dayton Contemporary Dance Company Artistic Director Debbie Blunden-Diggs, who also serves as choreographer, and Human Race Theatre Founding Resident Artist Scott Stoney. Resident Artist Scot Woolley is the musical director.
Crowns features performances by an ensemble of seven versatile actors, including Wright State University senior Jasmine Easler (Hot Mikado, Fences) as “Velma”, Joliet F. Harris (Because of Winn Dixie, Ella the Musical, Ain’t Misbehavin’, HBO’s The Wire) as “Mother Shaw”, Joy Lynn Jacobs (Marie Christine and The Music Man on Broadway, Gotham and Nurse Jackie on television) as “Wanda”, David Jennings (After Midnight, Hands on a Hardbody, Brooklyn the Musical on Broadway, Grammy nomination for 30th Anniversary recording of Dreamgirls) as “The Man”, Monette McKay (Mamma Mia!, Memphis, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark on Broadway) as “Yolanda”, former Dayton Contemporary Dance Company member Debra Walton (Children of Eden, Little Shop of Horrors for Human Race; Pajama Game and Street Corner Symphony on Broadway) returns to The Human Race after many years as “Jeanette” and Cincinnati actress Torie Wiggins (Mame, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike for Human Race; The Mountain Top and Black Pearl Sings! for Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati) makes a third appearance with The Human Race this season as “Mabel”.
Scenic designer Tamara L. Honesty (Other Desert Cities, Lombardi) and costume designer David M. Covach (August: Osage County, Moonlight and Magnolias) found inspiration for their designs in the Yoruba culture of Nigeria. Covach costumed each of the play’s female characters in a different color, based on a number of Yoruba deities. Crowns marks Covach’s thirtieth design for The Human Race. Honesty combined the earthy, wooden textures and colors of Yoruba craftwork with the modesty found in many Southern Pentecostal churches. The result is an open set space framed by screens upon which Resident Lighting Designer John Rensel will use projections to create a variety of times and locations. Scot Woolley and percussionist Kevin Anderson accompany the cast, performing the musical’s score-a mix of gospel, hymns, spirituals, chants-live offstage on a variety of instruments. Sound Designer Jay Brunner completes the environment by incorporating traditional and popular Yoruba/Nigerian music throughout the action.
Since its development for the stage in 2002, Crowns has become one of the most popular and widely-produced African-American plays in the country. “I think one of reasons for its popularity-certainly the reason why we wanted to produce it-is because it helps tell the story of who we are as a people,” says Producing Artist Director Kevin Moore. “It’s a beautiful, fascinating look at the history of African-Americans, and a celebration of culture and its roots inspired by the hats these ladies wear to church.” The fact that Crowns has much to teach its audiences (and its company) is not lost on Co-director Scott Stoney. “Working on this production with Debbie and this wonderful group of actors is amazing,” he says. “We all learn so much from each other. There’s more to it than just one person can know. And when it all comes together-the dance, the music and songs, the costumes, the stories-you can’t help but come away with a greater appreciation for this culture.”
Kevin Moore was delighted to be able to pair long-time friends Debbie Blunden-Diggs and Scott Stoney together to co-direct Crowns. Each brings a unique viewpoint and set of skills to the production. Blunden-Diggs, with a life-time of dance under her belt, refines the play’s narrative with her choreography while lending it her personal perspective as an African-American woman. Stoney is a highly-accomplished director skilled with telling intimate stories and over twenty years experience with the intricacies of The Loft Theatre. “With this leadership combination,” says Moore, “I’m confident that our production is in great hands. The result will be phenomenal theatre.”
Tickets for the preview performance of Crowns tonight, June 11 start at $35 for adults, $32 for seniors and $17.50 for students. For all performances June 12 – 28, single ticket prices start at $40 for adults, $37 for seniors and $20 for students. Prices vary depending on the day of the week and seating location. Group discounts are available for parties of 10 or more. The Human Race is offering a pair of discount ticket opportunities. Side-area seats are available at all performances for $25 each, on sale two weeks prior to performance. The Sunday, June 14 7:00 p.m. performance is “Sawbuck Sunday”, when any available seat can be purchased in person for just $10 at The Loft Theatre box office two hours prior to the show. Discounts are subject to availability and some restrictions apply.
All performances are at the Metropolitan Art Center’s Loft Theatre, located at 126 North Main Street in downtown Dayton, Ohio. Show times for Crowns are 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday through Saturday evenings. Performances on Sunday and Tuesday evenings begin at 7:00 p.m. and at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday matinees.
Tickets and performance information on Crowns are available at www.humanracetheatre.org or by calling Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630, and at the Schuster Center box office.