Steel Magnolias, Robert Harling’s popular play, which was turned into a hit film, weaves a timeless, sentimental tale, and The Alliance Theatre’s production of the drama gives audiences a new take on the familiar characters.
Set in a small town beauty salon in 1980s Louisiana, the bittersweet drama tells the story of a young bride Shelby (Zoë Winters), who is diabetic and struggling with the news that she should not have children. Harling crafts a humorous play that avoids becoming too sappy while pulling on your heartstrings.
Under the skillful direction of Judith Ivey, the ensemble cast creates vivid and solid characters that quickly endear themselves to the audience. Together the ladies are a solid force that is truly enjoyable to watch, but the cast’s strength is its chemistry.
As Shelby’s Mother M’Lynn, Beth Broderick of TV’s Sabrina the Teenage Witch takes a more straight-laced approach to the character than other actresses have taken, and for this production it works. The characterization allows her to display M’Lynn’s fear and sternness, but at the same time, some of the character’s compassion gets lost in the firm tones she delivers. In the end though, the loving mother shines through. When Broderick tells the ladies about Shelby’s hospitalization, she is heartbreaking.
In one of the most enjoyable roles, Deirdre Lovejoy delights as Truvy. She has the down home southern charm and folk charisma that you expect, and she makes it seem like you are in her salon waiting on your hair cut. There’s an electric spark that resonates with the audience, partly the character, partly her fantastic portrayal. Likewise, Winters’ Shelby is a bubble of joy. A smile big enough to fill the room, she quickly endures herself to the audience.
Mary Pat Gleason as Ouiser seems to never hit her stride. Even though the shadow of Shirley Maclaine’s movie performance shouldn’t be an issue, it is. It would be hard for anyone to escape comparing such an iconic performance. Gleason never quite storms the stage with the passion you would expect. Both Sarah Stiles as Annelle and Becky Ann Baker as Clairee round out the ensemble. Each one gives her own mark on the respective character.
Rounding out the production is the wonderful set by Michael Yeargan. The detailed beauty shop nestled into the side of a home works well for the production. It is homey and has a charm that is inviting, which makes it easier to embrace the story.
Whether you love the movie or just love to see a good theater, the Alliance Theatre’s production of Steel Magnolias is worth your time. With a beautiful set, wonderful actresses and timeless characters, the production will lift your spirit and may even bring on a tear.
Steel Magnolias plays through November 9, 2014 at the midtown theater. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website. The show’s runtime is a little over two hours with an intermission.
– Kenny Norton