Crowning Glories At Long Wharf Play By Regina Taylor
“Hats are a barometer of a person’s self, says Emilio Sosa, costume designer for Crowns: A Musical Celebration which is being presented at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater through May 13.
For the show, which originated at Princeton, New Jersey’s McCarter Theatre Center, the hats worn by the African-American actors not only dazzle in their design but speak volumes about their characters.
“It’s all about strong, resilient women of color,” says Sosa of the play with music written and directed by Regina Taylor, adapted from the book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry. (The show also had a production in the late ’90s at Hartford Stage.)
Each hat represents a different character, he says.
“For instance, ‘Mother Shaw’ is the matriarch of the story so her hats are regal, like crowns—no pun intended. Well, maybe pun intended,” he says. “Another character likes hats that ‘Come at ya,’ hats that ‘Getcha.’”
The millinery in the show runs the gamut of styles and materials, from straw hats to those with faux fur, toppers with satin ribbons, headwear with beaded sequins, rhinestones, metallic leather, feathers, plumes, and fluttering butterflies.
“There’s even a ‘trick hat’ that I can’t talk about because it would spoil the surprise,” he says.
Hats are regaining their popularity, though they were out of mainstream fashion for a while, Sosa says.
“But in the African-American community hats have never gone out of style for women or men. It comes down from our history of not having a lot, and in those days the only time you could get dressed up was for church.”
Sosa says hats are transformative, on stage and off.
“They give you a certain air and elegance,” he says. “When your grandmother or great-grandmother could buy a hat, it elevated them. A hat signifies stature, economic wellbeing, or it simply makes you stand out.”