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WUWM's Teran Powell reports on race and ethnicity in southeastern Wisconsin.

'Zuri's Crown' celebrates Black hair and the power of self love

Promotional image for the musical, "Zuri's Crown"
Marcus Center for Performing Arts
Promotional image for the musical, "Zuri's Crown"

A new original musical from the Bronzeville Arts Ensemble called Zuri’s Crown celebrates Black women, their hair, and the power of self-expression and love. It tells the story of a young Black girl on a journey to find and live as her authentic self.

The musical follows the story of Zuri, a young woman coming into her own as she embraces her self-worth and stands up against the forces that seek to diminish it.

Sheri Williams Pannell is the show’s director. She’s also the producing artistic director at the Bronzeville Arts Ensemble, a producing associate at Black Arts MKE and the area head for musical theater at the UW-Milwaukee Peck School of the Arts.

Pannell wrote Zuri’s Crown along with Cynthia Cobb and Parrish Collier.

Pannell says while she was directing a different show last year, Cobb mentioned adapting a fairytale that incorporated the Black experience. "She (Cobb) says, you know, we need our own fairytale. We need an uplifting, fun experience for the whole family. But through the experience and the voice of, you know, the Black experience in America. I keep using the term experience, but that’s what it is. It’s what we’re living. It’s what we are living daily," Pannell says.

Zuri’s Crown is an adaptation of Rapunzel with its own twist.

Characters, Bergamot, Sulfur 8, and Ultra Sheen — named after Black haircare products — weave together Zuri’s origin story.

"We chose the Rapunzel story because of, you know, this journey that so many of us make — as far as Black women — from little girls all the way through elderhood," Pannell says. "This journey we make with our hair. And our men, too, you know, go through their journey. But it's also universal because all of us, all human beings, have some hair story that they can tell from their lifetime of experience."

Pannell says it was important to get this story out, and as quickly as possible — she says creating a musical can be a years’ long process. But it was also important because she says there needs to be more uplifting and fun Black stories told.

Zuri’s Crown offers that with just enough conflict too.

"We as an audience get an opportunity to watch a community deal with a moment of loss, and then recognition. To see a love story. To see a triumph of a young girl as well as two other members of the community who learn how to resolve a conflict in a peaceful way," Pannell says.

Pannell acknowledges that with so much conflict in the Milwaukee community, and the country in general, it’s vital for audiences to see how issues can be handled. Zuri’s Crown is for the entire family, and everyone in the neighborhood.

And if you’re from Milwaukee, there are connections that will resonate with you. "It should have the look of places that are familiar for if you grew up in the Milwaukee area. There will be some places that are mentioned and some names that are dropped that you’ll say 'oh yeah, I know that. I remember that. Oh yeah that’s true,'” Pannell says with a chuckle.

Pannell says she wants people to experience joy and be able to relate to the story while watching the show. She wants people to move and groove to the music in their seats. And when they leave, she wants people to continue to talk about loving themselves as they are and understanding they don’t have to fit someone else’s expectations of who they should be.

Zuri’s Crown runs April 27-29 at the Marcus Center’s Wilson Theatre at Vogel Hall.


Teran is WUWM's race & ethnicity reporter.
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