The North Carolina Theatre will present a stellar production of playwright and screenwriter Robert Harling’s heavily autobiographical 1987 Off-Broadway hit and 1989 blockbuster film, Steel Magnolias, starring Tony Award® winner Beth Leavel as the unflappable M’Lynn Eatenton, on April 20-22 and 24-29 in the 600-seat A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Progress Energy Center in downtown Raleigh, NC. (People have only seen the 1989 motion picture, adapted for the big screen by Harling and directed by Herbert Ross, will be surprised that there are no men in the cast Steel Magnoliasonstage; and what men there are are heard but not seen.)
A 56-year-old Raleigh native and stage and movie actress and singer who earned a degree in social work from Meredith College in Raleigh, Beth Leavel won the 2006 Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical and a 2006 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical for playing Beatrice Stockwell, the tipsy title character in The Drowsy Chaperone. Most recently, Level was nominated for the 2011 Tony for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical and the 2011 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical for playing Scepter Records chief Florence Greenberg in Baby It’s You!
Steel Magnolias is set entirely in the comfy confines of Truvy’s Beauty Salon in Chinquapin, LA, which is the tiny town’s unofficial social hub and one of the best-known literary landmarks of the New South. The play’s six characters include salt-of-the-earth veteran beautician Truvy Jones (played at NCT by Jenn Colella) and her inexperienced and somewhat spacey assistant Annelle Dupuy Desoto (Madeline Chloe Taylor) and four well-to-do good old girls who comprise the shop’s regular Saturday customers: the urbane and elegant M’Lynn Eatenton (Beth Leavel) and her sickly daughter Shelby Eatenton Latcherie (Anne Horak), who have typical mother-daughter issues, complicated by Shelby’s diabetes and other escalating health problems, and bickering best friends Clairee Belcher (Darrie Lawrence), a radio station owner and widow of the former mayor of Chinquapin, and the equally wealthy and seemingly misanthropic Ouiser Boudreaux (Diane J. Findlay).
After having its New York premiere Off Off Broadway on March 22, 1987 at the WPA Theatre, Steel Magnolias made its Off-Broadway debut, directed Pamela Berlin, on June 19, 1987 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, where it played for 1,126 performances before closing on Feb. 25, 1990.
The 1989 film version of Steel Magnolias, adapted for the silver screen by Robert Harling and directed by Herbert Ross starred Sally Field as M’Lynn Eatenton, Dolly Parton as Truvy Jones, Shirley MacLaine as Ouiser Boudreaux, Daryl Hannah as Annelle Dupuy Desoto, Olympia Dukakis as Clairee Belcher, and Julia Roberts as Shelby Eatenton Latcherie. Smyrna, GA native Julia Roberts earned a nomination for the 1990 Academy Award® for Best Actress in a Supporting Role; and playwright/screenwriter Robert Harling played the minister at Shelby’s wedding.
|Beth Leavel as M’Lynn||Anne Horak as Shelby||Jenn Colella as Truvy|
|Diane J. Findlay as Ouiser||Darrie Lawrence as Clairee||Madeline Chloe Taylor as Annelle|
“I first heard some of the famous lines from Steel Magnolias backstage at a summer theater in 1988,” recalls North Carolina Theatre guest director Eric Woodall, who now works for Tara Rubin Casting in New York City. “Actors who had seen the then-current Off-Broadway production were quoting some of the famous one-liners.”
The Benson, NC native and former Triangle actor and director adds, “I took my mother and both grandmothers to see the  film. On the car ride home, we had so much fun deciding which character each of them was most like. I also saw the 2005 Broadway production.”
Woodall remembers, “As a little boy growing up in a small Southern town, I spent many Saturday mornings watching my grandmothers getting their hair done, sitting on the floor playing with the curlers. I cannot forget the cackling, the amazing stories, the gossip — the fun!
“What can be better than a play that celebrates Southern women?” he asks. “Also, I am honored to direct the first (nonmusical) play that the North Carolina Theatre has ever produced. It is so fitting that NCT picked this show to be their inaugural play, because I think of NCT founder De Ann Jones as the ultimate Steel Magnolia.
“Speaking of our ‘magnolias,’ we were thrilled beyond belief to get Tony Award winner Beth Leavel to return to her Raleigh roots to star as M’Lynn,” says Eric Woodall. “Beth leads an amazing company of New York and local actresses who bring these beloved characters to life.”
He notes, “The action is set in Truvy’s beauty salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana, where all the ladies who are ‘anybody’ come to have their hair done. Helped by her eager new assistant, Annelle (Maddie Taylor), who is not sure whether or not she is still married, the outspoken, wise-cracking Truvy (Jenn Colella) dispenses shampoos and free advice to the town’s rich curmudgeon and eccentric millionaire Ouiser (Diane Findlay); Miss Clairee (Darrie Lawrence); and the local social leader, M’Lynn (Beth Leavel), whose diabetic daughter, Shelby (Anne Horak), the prettiest girl in town, is about to marry a ‘good ole boy.'”
“Steel Magnolias draws on the underlying strength — and love — of these wonderful women, which gives the play, and its characters, the special quality to make them truly touching, funny, and marvelously amiable company in good times and bad,” says Woodall.
In addition to director Eric Woodall, the North Carolina Theatre creative team for Steel Magnolias includes producer Carolee Baxter, artistic director Casey Hushion, assistant to the director Andrew Britt, technical director and set construction chief Bill Yates, set designer Chris Bernier, lighting designer John Bartenstein, costume designer Annie Bruskiewitz, hair/wig/makeup designer and consultant Patti DelSordo, properties manager Ashley Laughter, sound designer Eric Alexander Collins, and stage manager Eric Tysinger.
Eric Woodall notes, “The play takes plays in a beauty parlor with hair being ‘done’ in real time during each performance. The technical challenges of realistically creating a working beauty parlor and complete hairdos on stage are huge, but we have the production team to do it!”
He adds, “Our set is a 1980s beauty shop that has been converted from a porch and carport. The beauty parlor is complete with hair chairs, washing station and hair dryers…. The lighting will have a naturalistic and contemporary (1980s) feeling to support the action of the play. There are different seasons during the play, but each scene takes place during the same time of day…
“The costumes are great,” Woodall says. “The 1980s was a very expressive period of clothing design. (Many would not call it a flattering period.) However, we have tried to stay very true to the period without going too far. The characters will look like real ladies in the mid-1980s.”
In reviewing the original 1987 New York production of Steel Magnolias, The New York Daily News wrote, “[Playwright Robert] Harling has given his women sharp, funny dialogue…. The play builds to a conclusion that is deeply moving.” Drama-Logue called the play “a skillfully crafted, lovingly evoked picture of eccentricity in the small-town South,” and noted: “Robert Harling is a new voice in the theatre and the qualities of Steel Magnolias suggest he may be an important one.” And the New York Post said Harling’s Southern-fried script was “suffused with humor and tinged with tragedy.”
North Carolina Theatre guest director Eric Woodall adds, “If you loved the movie, come see the play. Having the entire story take place in the beauty shop, the play pulls you in completely — every laugh, every tear. And you don’t have to go to the beauty shop to enjoy this. The beauty shop is to a small Southern town, what the kitchen is to a home — the heart. [It’s] A place where everything gets shared. And we can all relate to that!”
SECOND OPINION: April 15th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/04/15/1998840/steel-magnolias-brings-broadway.html.
The North Carolina Theatre presents STEEL MAGNOLIAS, starring Beth Leavel, at 7:30 p.m. April 20, 2 and 7:30 p.m. April 21 and 22, 7:30 p.m. April 24-27, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. April 28 and 29 in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Progress Energy Center, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $64.25-$79.75 (including fees).
NCT Box Office: 919-831-6941, ext.6944.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115202/1587720.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6941 ext. 5204, or http://nctheatre.com/tickets/group-sales.
BLOG (Stage Notes): http://www.nctheatre.com/stage-notes.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 2 p.m. April 28th performance.
The Play: http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=1063 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steel_Magnolias_(play) (Wikipedia), and http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
The Playwright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Harling_(writer) (Wikipedia).
The Director: http://americantheatrewing.org/biography/detail/eric_woodall (American Theatre Wing) and http://www.nctheatre.com/stage-notes/entry/meet-the-director-eric-woodall (North Carolina Theatre).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.
To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.