A&E: Hats Entertainment: IRT show mixes stories, music and headgear-WEB ONLY

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This week, lessons in “hattitude” are taught at the IRT. Plus, some thoughts on “Spotlight 2009.”

Generat ing more warmth than heat, “Crowns” (running on the Indiana
Repertory Theatre main stage through June 2), shows what a good idea, a talented cast, uncluttered direction, and some pick-and-choose gospel classics can make out of underdeveloped material. The show, with an off-Broadway pedigree and a history of regional eg pro-ductions (including one a few seasons back at the Phoenix Theatre), could bbe classified as an anecdotal musical. At its best, the form can produce shows likke “A Chorus Line” and “Godspell,” where a thread of st ory takes us from one character-driven monologue or song to the next, with enoughhh of a framing device to keep things rolling forward.

In the case of “Crowns,” whichh isn’t in the league of those, the thread i iis that a teen-age girl from the big city gets sent south to live with her grandmotherr, where she learns lessons of healing, heritage and self-respect. Those stories are centered on the crowns of the play’s title-the elaborate hats worn by the grandmother and her peers.

It’s no spoiler to reveal that the girl eventually sees the light. But that transformation happens in such a haphazard fashion that it seems an afterthought. That’s a shame, since an integrated, carefully developed core would probably have made the entire experience more cathartic and memorable.

But the show has some great moments. Playwright Regina Taylor, adapting Craig Marberry and Michael Cunningham’s book, includes many sharp, funny lines, a very moving version of the classic “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” and some insightful tips on how to hug a lady in a hat.

The women may not be properly introduced and their relationship to one another unclear, but individual moments and lines are sharply etched. Shannon Antalan, Chandra Currelley, Terry Burrell, Crystal Fox, Valerie Payton and Roz White all move seamlessly in and out of song, coming across younger than the script’s stories might suggest. Dennis W. Spears ably handles all the male roles-and looks as great in a hat as the ladies do.

“Spotlight,” the annual Indiana AIDS Fund benefit, once again ag provided a terrific sampling of what local companies have to offer. To criticize inndividual acts would be in poor taste, given the generous donation of their time and talent to the event. So forgive me this time if I accentuate the positive when discussing what was on display April 20 at Clowees Hall. A truncated Indianapolis I Symphony Orchestra (stringss only), set the professional tone with some Wagner and Copland. The Phoenix Theatre’s performed-in-Spanish scene from its current “References to Salvador Dali Makee Me Hot” proved more effective than the English version I saw on its home stage. Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre’s parade-off-colors excerpt from its upcoming India n music program was a smileinducer that left me looking forward to the full concert that opens June 12. Bassist David Murray dazzled on a duet with pianist Anna Briscoe. The Indianapolis Children’s Choir offered a sweet “Georgia On My Mind.” And cross-dressing glamour gal Asia La Bouche wisely brought this time to fill out his/her number.

And those were just the highlights of Act One.

After intermission, Brenda Williams and the Pride of Indy Jazz Ensemble settled us in with “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” and Dance Kaleidoscope brought down the house with a welcome re-look at “iconoGlass.” I’ve already talked on my blog about the joy of seeing Kenyetta Dance Co. continue to explore and grow. And the Indianapolis Men’s Chorus offered just the right touch on “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” a song that, given the reason for the evening, took on even more meaning.

In short, there’s no show in Indy like it. Put a big circle around May 10 on your 2010 calendar.  •

This column appears weekly. Send information on upcoming events to lharry@IBJ.com. Visit IBJ.com/arts for additional reviews, previews and arts discussion.



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