BWW Review: STEEL MAGNOLIAS in Full Bloom at Theatre Jacksonville
Most millennial women who grew up in the south can quote STEEL MAGNOLIAS in their sleep. Some women opt for blush and bashful as their wedding colors. Some have named their pets Drum or Rhett, and we all have taken this quiz (I'm Ouiser, for what it's worth). I say this because if you are like me and were practically raised in Truvy's Beauty Parlor, when STEEL MAGNOLIAS hits the stage, you're in the front(ish) row, trying to get Shelby to drink her juice. If you're not like me, you might check it out because it has become a classic and you want to know why. Whichever your stance, you're in luck, because Theatre Jacksonville opened STEEL MAGNOLIAS Friday night, and it will play through May 7th.
STEEL MAGNOLIAS takes place in Truvy's Beauty Salon in Chinquapin, Louisianna. This six woman show is loaded with quick wit and heartache alike, as they experience and process weddings and babies and death together, in the safe place that is the style chair. I attended opening weekend, and from the moment I stepped into the theatre, I knew I was in for a treat. A carefully crafted, endearing set was before me, and from bedazzled hairspray cans to Truvy's name perfectly scrawled across the salon window, director Lee Hamby's attention to detail was clear, concise, and spectacularly executed through Tim Watson's scenic design. I wasn't in love with the blueish green office chair that was placed down stage left, but let's be serious: if the critic is discussing a chair that bothered her, the rest of the set must be flawless (it was).
With a script that is second to none, characters who have big hair and even bigger personalities, the potential for a truly great show hangs in a cloud of hairspray, waiting for execution. Mother/daughter duo M'Lynn and Shelby are actually a real-life mother/daughter duo, and their chemistry was clear throughout. In the second scene, Shelby arrives at Truvy's and has a special moment with her momma, sharing some exciting news. Both stumbled through a few lines along the way, and yet it was a beautiful theatrical moment: never once did one let the other down. Their eyes stayed locked, they maintained pristine character, and they gave of themselves equally, carrying the moment elegantly. Additionally, two minutes after that moment, a cell phone rang a few rows back. And that phone rang and rang and rang and rang. Sara Beth Gerard-Summers (Shelby) and Kelley Norman (M'Lynn) never flinched or missed a beat. Throughout the ringing, which lasted a full 30 seconds, these poised actresses transcended the petty disrespect in the audience and won the moment. It seems that Annelle's extended request to silence phones prior to the opening scene went unnoticed by some of the audience. Amy Noel Canning brings a special twist to beloved Truvy, one that deems special attention. This role, immortalized (though not originated) by the effervescent Dolly Parton, can be the hardest to play. Dolly perfected it, and most actresses fall short in attempting a parallel. Amy, though, absolutely recreated the role, delivering Truvy's iconic lines in a new and refreshing way. And...she can do hair! I was impressed at her ability to be fully present and pin Shelby's hair perfectly, baby's breath and all, in the first scene. Gloria Ware and Brooks Anne Meierdierks kept the laughs coming as they portrayed best friends Clairee and Ouiser. Chelsae Baxley, in the role of complicated outsider turned friend, Annelle, stole the show. She embodied the character expertly, her silent moments were as engaging as her speaking lines, and her heart was fearlessly left on the stage, regardless of how awkward and (initially) out of place her character was.
There were moments that felt unfinished, but not for lack of effort. Dropped lines were quickly made up for. One of the most difficult things about this script is that the lines are incredibly codependent. It's not easy to fake it 'til you make it in STEEL MAGNOLIAS. These stunning six ladies were a well-oiled machine, and their comradery was believably memorable. The transitional music between scenes and acts made clear the director's intentions, and kept a certain air among the audience during intermission. The costuming and makeup revealed study and heart put into practice by everyone on the artistic team. It was a fun night, and I shed a few tears (You all will. It's inevitable.) STEEL MAGNOLIAS has two weekends of performances left, and you can purchase tickets here or call the box office at 904-396-4425.
Photo Credit: Maya Adkins