A star-making movie for Julia Roberts in 1989, Steel Magnolias began life a couple of years before it was an off-Broadway hit. It takes a simple, funny look at life in a beauty shop in Louisiana. When a new girl starts at the shop she meets five quirky, loveable ladies who change her life.
Charleston Stage’s version of the show keeps things pink and fluffy, with a focus on surface gloss rather than complex character development. Yet director Kyle Barnette ensures that each of the women in the play have a clear arc — none more so than Annelle Depuy, the initially winsome newcomer.
Annelle is hired by Truvy, a good ol’ southern gal who speaks her mind and runs a tight shop. “Time marches on,” she says ruefully, “and sooner or later you realize it’s marchin’ across your face.” Truvy’s friends are Clairee Belcher, ex-First Lady of Chinquapin Parish, wealthy enough to visit Paris and attend all her favorite football games; M’lynn Eatenton, who blurs the line between For Sale and On Sale when she’s shopping for clothes; and Ouiser Boudreaux, her tremendously grumpy neighbor. “Ouiser, you sound almost chipper,” Clairee tells her. “What happened today, you run over a small child or something?”
The young Annelle’s first day of frostin’ and streakin’ coincides with a very special occasion, the wedding of M’lynn’s daughter Shelby, an easy-going girl with chronic diabetes. Each scene jumps forward in time, with events progressing drastically each time.
Melonea Locklair Marek has a great time as roost ruler Truvy. She delivers her jokes with relish (“I’d rather walk on my lips than criticize,” she lies) and has the perfect hair, walk, and voice for her character.
Beth Curley is a last-minute replacement for Dana Kyle DeMartino. She’s delightful as Clairee, particularly when she’s cracking age-related jokes. “You are evil and you must be destroyed,” Ousier tells her. “Mother Nature’s taking care of that faster than you could,” she replies. Early on Curley smiles a bit too much, but in this gag-heavy show the accent is on fun most of the time; don’t expect the protracted sentimentality of the film.
In a play where the characters’ southernness sometimes makes them indistinct — they share the same opinions on beauty, recipes and men — Marybeth Clark’s M’lynn stands out. She gives one of the more realistic, identifiable performances in the show. G. Terry Shildcrout portrays Ouiser with vim and vinegar. With some of the best lines in the play, she quickly builds a rapport with the audience.
Courtney Pierce has the unwelcome task of being the “straight” girl in a room full of wisecrackers. While she doesn’t display much range in her first scene, she becomes the most fully developed of all the characters as she transforms from church mouse to smartass. Angela Rogers is incurably cute and good-looking as Shelby, perfect for her precious role. She knows how to milk her sweetness without being cloying.
Barbara Young’s costumes are full of straightforward colors that help to reflect each character: Ouiser’s autumnal brown, Clairee’s regal red and purple, Truvy’s sexy blue chiffon, Shelby’s pink outfits that come in two shades, blush and bashful. Scenic/lighting designer Stefanie Christensen and propmaster Michael Christensen pack the parlor with ’80s era goodies for this period piece. There’s a functioning sink for washing hair, a manicure station, salon gear in a back room. The main set has yellow walls with a pink door, trim and wainscoting, and it’s full of equipment and decorations that mix the tired with the shiny and new — just like the characters.
Framed with recorded tunes by Madonna, George Michael, and Phil Collins, this trip back to 1987 is definitely one for the ladies. It will make a good, unchallenging night out for moms and their daughters, while the fellas who get dragged along will appreciate the sharp one-liners.
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