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A star tops M Ensemble's 'Crowns'

Crowns Cast Don Seward, Yaya Browne, Lela Elam,Christina Alexander,Paulette Dozier, Chiquila Brown, Melba Moore photo by Deborah Gray Mitchell M Ensemble is between homes, having left its North Miami theater at the end of last season and awaiting its move into the Miami Light Project's new Wynwood space; there the black theater troupe, South Florida's oldest still-operating professional company, will be one of MLP's anchor arts groups.  But in the meantime comes news of a high-profile production of Regina Taylor's gospel musical Crowns:  M Ensemble will present a short run of the show Feb. 2-6 as a coproduction with Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.   Anchoring the cast of South Florida performers is a Tony Award-winning star, singer-actress Melba Moore.

Inspired by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry's book Crowns, Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats, Taylor's musical tells the story of a young Brooklyn woman sent to live with her grandmother in South Carolina after her brother's murder.  Surrounded by her churchgoing grandmother and four aunts -- all of whom wear elaborate hats, or "crowns," to church -- the tough-talking city girl has a slow but real spiritual awakening, aided by the poetry and stylistically varied songs her relatives share.

Joining Moore in the cast are Lela Elam, Yaya Browne, Christina Alexander, Paulette Dozier, Chiquila Brown and Don Seward.  John Pryor, a frequent M Ensemble director, is staging the production, with musical direction by jazz percussionist Howard Moss and choreography by Joshua Eason.

Tickets to Crowns, which plays in the Arsht's Carnival Studio Theater, are $34.  Performances are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Call (305) 949-6722 or visit the Arsht web site for information.