The cast of Steel Magnolias. Photo: CLT
By Robert Harling
Directed by Barbara O’Daniel-Munger
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
Confession: I have never seen the play nor watched the movie before attending Clarksville Little Theatre’s presentation of Steel Magnolias. But just because I don’t have firsthand experience with the show, does not mean that I am not familiar with the premise. By borrowing the idiosyncrasies of people from his own family life to inform characters within Steel Magnolias, author Robert Harling has given the world an oft-quoted and referenced literary gem, one that serves as a loving tribute to his beloved late sister, Susan. The work is over 30 years old and is still popular with audiences for its timeless message.
It is April in Chinquapin, Louisiana and the whole town is abuzz with excitement as one of their own, Shelby (Madelyn Hagan), is about to get married, While her family is at home making final preparations for the wedding, the bride and her mother M’Lynn (Beth Northup) head to Truvy’s (Amanda Alexander) in-home beauty parlor for their hair and make-up. As you can probably guess, Truvy’s is as much about the latest gossip as it is about hair. With Truvy’s business thriving she hires Annelle (Kaitlyn Fortwengler), who is new to town
When Clairee (Cindy Smith), the former first lady of Chinquapin, comes in for her appointment all kinds of trouble starts unfolding as we hear loud blasts coming from M’Lynn’s house. Soon after the commotion neighbor Ouiser (Jeni DeLancey) comes barreling into the beauty shop and accuses Shelby’s father Drum of using a cannon to shew away the birds that nest in the trees that align both properties. These early scenes make it clear that these ladies have been lifelong friends and have shared many life experiences with each other. What affects one affects all of them, in some way or another.
Fast forward, Shelby is married to Jackson and a mother-to-be. While most everyone is excited and can’t wait for the new arrival, M’Lynn has reservations about the announcement. Will Shelby be healthy enough to have a child? The ladies rally around the family and stick with each other through thick and thin.
I applaud director Barbara O’Daniel-Munger for her casting. Each person acted with the characteristics that were intrinsic for their respective roles, especially Jeni DeLancey and Cindy Smith. I could not help but think of these two always had a love/hate relationship with one another. Kaitlyn Fortwengler’s Annelle was a little too timid at times, but once she found her footing, she came into focus. Amanda Alexander’s Truvy was the right amount of busybody and a trusted friend. It was nice to watch Madelyn Hagan’s transformation of Shelby in the short amount of space and time of the play. Shelby started as a quasi-Bridezilla but blossomed into a strong woman who was not afraid to go for what she wants.
I was quite impressed with Beth Northup’s portrayal of M’Lynn. In the first act she seemed to have the role of a nervous mother down pretty pat and within the second act, she channeled the raw emotions that are reflective of the latter part of the play. Very refreshing.
Besides being the director Ms. O’Daniel-Munger designed the set and yes indeed, you felt like you were at a small town beauty salon. With help from Jerry Prince’s props and Kevin Swansey’s appropriate costumes, the show popped even more. Although I liked Mike Miller’s lighting design, I was not too fond of the sound – the cannon/gunfire was too stifled to be convincing. Also, was Liam O’Daniel-Munger’s voiceover at times sounded like gibberish, which seemed odd, and the scene changes seemed to take longer than they should have.
Steel Magnolias is certainly an important part of a theatrical legacy and I am happy to say that Clarksville Little Theatre did a great job in bringing the story to life.
March 8, 9, 15 & 16 @ 8:00 PM
March 17 at 2:00 PM
Clarksville Little Theatre
301 E. Montgomery Avenue
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.
2019 Arts-Louisville/Broadway World Theatre Award Sponsorship provided by: