An enthusiastic ‘Amen!’ for CFRT’s ‘Crowns’

08Crowns3Hats off to Cape Fear Regional Theatre for wrapping up the season with a singing, shouting, footstomping good time with “Crowns, A Gospel Musical.” Cast and crew deliver a fantastic story of overcoming tragedy and finding one’s path.

“Crowns” runs through June 3. Don’t wait to get your tickets; there are sure to be sold-out shows.

The show, written by Regina Taylor, is adapted from the book “Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats” by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry.

Seeing “Crowns” onstage is a little bit like going to church, and a little bit like hanging out with some of the coolest gals in town. There are a lot of laughs and a few tears as the characters recount stories of their lives associated with their hats, or crowns.

I attended a pre-show chat with playwright Regina Taylor, where she shared not only her thoughts on “Crowns,” but also her experience of being a Golden Globe award-winning actress, as well as her perspective from growing up with a single mother who encouraged her writing and creativity.

“Crowns is a celebration of African-American culture,” Taylor said. 

“The character (Yolanda) loses her sense of self with the death of her brother in Brooklyn,” Taylor said. “Her mother sends her to South Carolina to live with her grandmother (Mother Shaw).”

But as Taylor explains, and we see in the musical, her mother sends her South to reclaim her from her grief. Yolanda no longer knows quite where she fits into things without her brother, who was her other half.

With Mother Shaw and her “Hat Queens,” Yolanda starts hearing stories – markers in these women’s lives that shape them and point them ahead on their paths.

“These stories are stories we’ve all been touched by (baptisms, funerals, happy and sad moments) ... about finding you have a community to lean on, to find your direction,” Taylor said.

“We can put that on a stage and different people of all walks of life can see themselves, see their neighbors, who they think are so different…” and recognize commonalities, Taylor said.

It is a story of finding yourself and your voice in this world through the collective memories of who we are and what we have experienced. Though the subject matter is serious, CFRT delivers a fun show with amazing music, dance and hats – oh, the hats! 

“Crowns” is worth the price of admission just to see the hats, and these characters wearing them, and I do mean wearing them – with style, with sass, with confidence. It’s the kind of confidence that comes from truly knowing your value.

“Crowns” is directed by Donna Baldwin Bradby (“The Wiz”). The cast includes Cassandra Lowe Williams as Mother Shaw, La’Tonya R. Wiley, Chasity McIntosh, Sha’Air Hawkins, Janeta Jackson and Walter Johnson with Ariel Neema Blake as Yolanda. 

All deliver terrific performances and shuffle between multiple characters as they switch crowns. Each has a turn to demonstrate their vocal talents, as well.

Everything about the show pays tribute to AfricanAmerican culture – from gospel hymns to dance moves. The songs are mostly traditional hymns sung in churches all over the South, with some blues and jazz. There’s even a bit of hip-hop. The songs carry the message that trouble doesn’t last, better times are ahead. 

Choreographer Tina Yarborough Liggins included West African movements that are also reminiscent of shouting in churches. It was interesting to see these movements performed by the whole cast at times when shouting can be such an individual experience. It seemed to be symbolic of a collective joining to share in enthusiastic worship. It was fantastic and a testament to the talent CFRT gathered for this production.

This is a show you don’t want to miss.

Tickets for “Crowns” range from $17 to $32 with discounts and group sales available. For more information about the show or special events, contact the box office at 910-323-4233 or visit www.cfrt.org.

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E.E. Smith Alumni Weekend hosts Music MegaFest

09Eric Darius PicK & Q Productions and the Cumberland K & Q Productions and the Cumberland County Tourism Development Authority present The Alumni Weekend Music MegaFest Friday, May 25, from 5-10 p.m. and Saturday, May 26, from 4-10 p.m. in Festival Park.

“The purpose of the event originated as a fundraising event for the E. E. Smith Alumni Association and its charity activities,” said James Simpson, executive producer of K & Q Productions. “I am an alumnus of E. E. Smith High School and part of their leadership team. Our goal is to try to raise awareness to get us into a better position as far as fundraising.”

Simpson added the event is designed to attract a cross section of ages and ethnic groups based on the music genre.

“Friday will be an old-school rhythm and blues music genre, and then, Saturday, there is a little bit of hip-hop intermingled with R & B,” said Simpson. “Then we have a jazz flavoring that will lead into a Sunday after-party.”

Friday night’s lineup features The Temptations with special guests ConFunk Shun and The Gap Experience. Saturday’s lineup features BlackStreet with special guests the YingYang Twins, Pastor Troy and Mr. Cheeks.

“We will also have a live DJ that will play music in between acts for people that want to dance, and he will facilitate the dance contests,” said Simpson.

Bring your chair or blanket and enjoy good music, food and dancing at this outdoor concert during the Memorial Day weekend. Vendors will be on-site to sell their merchandise.

Beer, wine and food will be available for purchase.

The after-party is Sunday, May 27, at Bordeaux Convention Center at 7 p.m., featuring an “Evening of Jazz” with Eric Darius and special guest Black Seed. The after-party admission is $20 at the door with proof of voided Music MegaFest ticket and $25 without proof of ticket. For more information, call 910-779-2006.

Gates open Friday at 5 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $65; there is also a VIP package available. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.alumnimusicfest.com or call the event hotline at 910-778-3632.


PHOTO: Eric Darius

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Laugh till you cry with Chonda Pierce

10ChondaGetting Food for the Hungry presents Chonda Pierce: Getting Back to Funny Tour on Wednesday, May 9, at 7 p.m. at the Crown Coliseum. Up & Coming Weekly had a conversation with the comedian about her life and how she got to be so funny.

Up & Coming Weekly: What should the audience expect to hear from you at the Crown?

Chonda Pierce: I’m excited because I love my job. I get paid to go out there and laugh with my audience. I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and they probably are going to get the same old thing that they always get. We laugh a little bit, cry a little bit, pee in our pants and go home.

UCW: Why are you often called “The Queen of Clean?”

CP: I know that comedy is subjective. If you walk into a comedy club late at night, I’m pretty squeaky clean compared to that. Now my grandmother would probably argue with you because once in a while somebody walks out because I said “sex” or “butt crack.”

UCW: When did you first find out you were hilarious enough to become a comedian?

CP: Probably my first whipping. I was a preacher’s kid and a middle child, so that is the making of comedy right there. As a theater major in high school, my drama teacher was so good. She would give me a dramatic role and I would still make it funny and get fussed at. Every time I would audition for something in community theater or in college, I was always drawn to the funny. Most girls wanted the leading role so they could kiss the boy. I wanted the role that would make the crowd laugh and looked like it was going to be fun.

UCW: What is something that people would be surprised to know about you?

CP: I think I have been at this too long because people know too much. I wanted to be a policeman when I was growing up. People would be surprised to know that at home or in my small group of friends, I am not the funny one or the loud mouth that people would think. I get all that done at night on the stage. I live a very quiet life at home. I love fishing, cooking and scrapbooking in my free time. I have to fight against isolation and becoming more reclusive because a lot of it has to do with losing my husband. I am clinically depressed, so you have to really push back on things that will fuel your depression.

Tickets cost between $27 and $49.50. The VIP experience includes the best seats in the house, a pre-show meet-and-greet with Chonda, a commemorative VIP pass, crowd-free shopping and $5 off $25 or more on Chonda merchandise. For more information, call 910-438-4100.

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New novels from four of NC's best writers

13TakeOutIs the cold weather really over at last? And if the warmer season is here, what are some good books you should consider for your spring reading list?

Here are four recent novels from three of North Carolina’s most popular writers and a promising debut author, all of them featured on recent or upcoming North Carolina Bookwatch broadcasts.

When “Long Upon the Land” was published in 2015, North Carolina’s beloved mystery writer Margaret Maron told us it was her final in her 20-book series featuring District Court Judge Deborah Knott, the daughter of a boot legger and the wife of a deputy sheriff. Sadly, we said goodbye to Knott and to Maron’s storytelling talents.

Last year, we got a happy surprise. Although the Judge Knott series was over, Maron had one more novel to share.

“Take Out” is a murder mystery, the last in Maron’s nine-book Sigrid Harald series. She is a New York City police detective. Harald may not be as popular as Knott, but she has many fans.

The novel opens with the discovery of two dead men on a park bench in downtown Manhattan. Both had apparently been poisoned. But why? And by whom? Maron takes us all over the city to solve the mystery. Along the way, at a book fair, we meet a North Carolina bookseller who shares a name with the former owner of Quail Ridge Books, the late and beloved Nancy Olson.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Daniel Wallace’s recent “Extraordinary Adventures” may be his best novel. That is saying something because his “BigFish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions” delighted thousands even before it became a great movie.

In “Extraordinary Adventures,” he tells us the story of Edsel Bronfman, a 34-year-old socially awkward shipping clerk who wins a free vacation. There is only one condition, “you have to bring your spouse or partner or girl friend.” Edsel’s crusade to find that partner makes for another wild, happy and troubling Daniel Wallace adventure. Local governments on the coast are adopting resolutions opposing President Trump’s proposal to open the Atlantic waters to offshore oil drilling.

Master storyteller and UNC-Wilmington writing professor Phillip Gerard’s recent novel, “The Dark of the Island,” weaves a storyline that brings together German submarines and spying along our coastline and recent efforts to find and exploit oil deposits off those same shores.

Into this tapestry he blends other compelling themes such as complicated families, race, romance and the special history of the people of the Outer Banks.

The main character, Nick Wolf, is a researcher and publicist for the fictional NorthAm Oil Company, which is searching for oil off the North Carolina coast.

His grandfather was a German immigrant who died off the coast of Hatteras Island in 1942, reportedly while serving in the U.S. Merchant Marines, but possibly as a part of the German military.

In her debut novel “Maranatha Road,” attorney, mother and author Heather Bell Adams takes her readers to the North Carolina mountains where two women battle over the memory of a man each loved. The man’s mother, Sadie Caswell, mourns the loss of her son, who died shortly before his scheduled wedding. The other woman,Tinley Greene, is a young stranger, recently orphaned and alone. She now claims she is pregnant with the man’s child.

Adams sympathizes with both these characters. Like Tinley, Adams lost a parent while she was still in her teens. And she is now a mother like Sadie.

“Now that I’m a mother, I’m often struck by the fierce desire to shield our son from harm and unhappiness, especially knowing how arbitrary life can be. The character of Sadie first appeared to me as an older woman who sees that her adult son is headed for disaster, but she is powerless to stop it.”

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