Mother/daughter Actresses Take to the Tennessee Rep Stage for 'Steel Magnolias'

By: Sep. 13, 2009
Get Access To Every Broadway Story

Unlock access to every one of the hundreds of articles published daily on BroadwayWorld by logging in with one click.

Existing user? Just click login.

With Tennessee Repertory Theatre celebrating its 25th year as one of the nation's premier regional theatres, it's only appropriate that the season kicks off with a revival of Robert Harling's iconic Southern comedy Steel Magnolias, running October 3-24 at the Andrew Johnson Theatre at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center.

"I have to confess a heartfelt personal thrill at the prospect of directing Steel Magnolias this fall," said Rene Dunshee Copeland, producing artistic director for the Nashville-based company. "It's a show I've loved for a long time. I've always felt it was genuine loving tribute to the resiliency of Southern women and it's just plain funny.

"But mostly, I'm looking forward to being a part of the pairing of Marin Miller and her mother-Mary Jane Harvill-onstage together for the first time."

In fact, Miller's lineage makes her almost a part of Tennessee Repertory Theatre royalty. Her parents, Mary Jane Harvill and the late Myke Mueller, were two of the company's founding actors. And while she enjoyed playing with her Barbie dolls while a child, more often than not, her Barbies were being used in more dramatic fashion: "When my parents were in rehearsal for Macbeth, my babysitter peeked her head around and looked in as I was quietly playing in my bedroom with my Barbies...specifically three Barbies around a cereal bowl, with me muttering wickely, 'Double double, toil and trouble...'" Miller recalls.

Since then, Miller has become a professional actress herself and calls New York City home. But she'll be back in Music City this fall to play Shelby opposite her mother's M'Lynn. M'Lynn is a role that Harvill played first in Tennessee Rep's 1989 production.

"Mary Jane and her husband, Myke Mueller, were legendeary and integral parts of Tennessee Rep in its founding days, and of course Marin has been acting on the Tennessee Rep stage in recent years; our first second-generation professional actor," Copeland says. "In getting to know and love Marin, I have loved hearing stories of her memories of her childhood in the Tennessee Rep family, and tales of her mom and dad. Naturally, it occurred to me that putting Marin and Mary Jane together would be a fitting tribute to Tennessee Rep's history. When they agreed to play Shelby and M'Lynn to kick off the anniversary season, it just seemed so right."

Miller fondly recalls her unique childhood in Nashville's theatre community: "I was immersed in a strong and loving artistic community-what could possibly be better for a girl than to be surrounded by adults who had grown up to play pretend?"

However, there were challenges with which to contend; when Marin Miller was ten years old, her father lost his life in a tragic accident. But even then, Miller recalls the warmth of the Nashville artistic community. After hearing of her father's accident while visiting her grandmother, she and her mother returned to their home in Bon Aqua to see the dirt road on which they lived lined with cars.

"It was so nIce To have an entire community that loved my parents," Miller remembers. "This warm family of artists was waiting when we got back. It was unbelievable. For me, their support definitely forged a deep and strong bond with the artistic community in Nashville."

It was that bond, coupled with her parents' abundant creative energy that helped to fuel her spirit and led to her decision to follow in her parents' professional footsteps.

"My mom pulled back a little from acting following the death of my father, but was still a theatre teacher in high school. I was riding in the car and remember talking to her about my pursuing a theatre carreer," Miller says. "Mom certainly knew the challenges. But she took a deep breath and gave me her blessing."

"I came to it on my own. It was purely my decision to be an actress. I was always encouraged to perform, but it came about naturally to be drawn to this career,"she explains. "Mom left the Nashville arts scene, for the most part, after the death of my father, but I missed it. I missed the sense of community, missed working together as a team to create something. I missed the dancing, the great parties, the singing. I missed the rehearsal breaks. I have a vivid memory of singing James Taylor's 'Bartender Blues' during a rehearsal break."

And while Steel Magnolias is a homecoming of sorts for Marin Miller, it may be an even more sentimental return for her mother, Mary Jane, who was synonymous with the phrase "Tennessee Repertory Theatre" in its formative years..

"I spent so many hours on that stage," Harvill says. "Some ten years, acting and directing, that I expect it feel like home again when I get out there. And when Marin and I get out there together, that's going to be great. I can feel it in my heart right now, this joyous sort of thing. Oh, if Myke could see us now."

Tennessee Rep's 2009 staging of Steel Magnolias features a cast that has appeared in a combined 70 Rep productions over the past 25 years. In addition to Harvill and Miller, the cast includes Brooke Bryant as Annelle, Ruth Cordell as Clairee, Denice Hicks as Ouiser and Martha Wilkinson as Truvy.

For more information about Tennessee Repertory Theatre, visit the website at


To post a comment, you must register and login.

Vote Sponsor