Mahalia Jackson

Courtesy photo | Face Off Theatre Company

After tragically losing her brother, a young woman named Yolanda is sent to live with her grandmother, Mother Shaw. Mother Shaw takes the reluctant Yolanda in, and soon Mother Shaw's circle of friends becomes interested in Yolanda's welfare. These ladies take pride in dressing up for church and wearing spectacular hats to Sunday services-- hats that have stayed in families for years, each one a uniquely personal possession.  That's the premise of Regina Taylor's play CROWNS, which will run from Feb 27 - Mar 1 at the Judy K. Joliffe Theatre in downtown Kalamazoo.

In this radio interview, Cara Lieurance spoke with Face Off Theatre Company's founder/artistic director Marissa Harrington, actress Brenda Earvin (Mother Shaw), and actress Jeannine Jones (Wanda) about the hats, gospel music, and themes of hope and healing community that CROWNS has to offer.

Carl Van Vechten, via Wikimedia Commons

Face Off Theatre Company will present Mahaliathe story of gospel singing sensation Mahalia Jackson, on Feb 21 - 24 at the Joliffe Theatre in the Epic Center, Kalamazoo. It stars Christie Coleman, who recently played lead roles in Sister Act at the Kalamazoo Civic and in Dreamgirls at Face Off Theatre. Coleman says that like Mahalia, she grew up singing gospel music in her family's church. In her portrayal, she uses a combination of her own natural voice and some elements of Mahalia's style.

Director Marissa Harrington, a co-founder of Face Off Theatre, talks about its mission to put diverse stories and diverse characters on stage, to collaborate with other organizations in outreach efforts, and to get audiences involved after every show by offering "talkbacks" with the cast.  Harrington says Mahalia, which opens Face Off Theatre's 2019 season, is an ideal story for Black History Month, noting the powerful second act features scenes between Jackson and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. which portray their friendship and shared dream.