BWW Reviews: Southern Belles Ring True with Riverside Center's Winning STEEL MAGNOLIAS

BWW Reviews: Southern Belles Ring True with Riverside Center's Winning STEEL MAGNOLIAS
M'Lynn (Constance Shofi) and Shelby (Emily Perkins)
share a moment in Riverside Center's STEEL MAGNOLIAS.

Presenting the first non-musical in the sixteen-plus years of producing dinner theatre, Riverside Center's STEEL MAGNOLIAS has everything it needs to be a hit: a known play, a winning ensemble, and solid direction by well-known actress Sherri Edelen.

If you attend theatre regularly, no doubt you have run across Robert Harling's STEEL MAGNOLIAS. Since its long Off-Broadway run starting in 1987, Harling's heart-tugging comedy has entertained audiences from high schools to Broadway and everywhere in between. Inspired by the death of his own sister from the complications of diabetes, STEEL MAGNOLIAS struck a chord with its balance of humor (including very quotable zingers), moments of pathos, and the strong bonds of female family and friends who gather in a local Louisiana beauty shop.

Riverside Center's artistic director Patrick A'Hearn wanted the theatre to branch into its first non-musical show and with STEEL MAGNOLIAS he picked a winner. He also gave one of the DC area's most recognizable musical theatre actresses a chance to make her directing debut. Sherri Edelen - most recently Mama Rose in Signature Theater's GYPSY - brings a light touch to the tried-and-true script and allows the cast of six to inhabit the small town hair salon with ease.

Andrea Kahane is a home-spun Truvy, the owner of the neighborhood hair salon in little, old Chinquapin Parish. Truvy mentors her new assistant Annelle - a girl with a past, in spite of her youth - played by Jennifer Joyner. I feel I should point out that for her performance, Joyner adheres a little too closely to the Darryl Hannah playbook from the 1989 film of STEEL MAGNOLIAS. I mention this only because all the other actresses make their characters their own. By the final act and scenes, Joyner's Annelle had grown in complexity, but early on, her performance was more like an imitation someone else's work.

Truvy's regular customers include the widowed, former first lady of Chinquapin, Clairee, played with charming panache by Carol Hagy. Hagy brings out the elegance and wit of Clairee as if the role were written for her. As her best friend and verbal nemesis, Kathy Halenda's portrayal of Ouiser - "I've just been in a bad mood for 40 years!" - is also pitch perfect. Halenda's Ouiser is a force of nature hiding a heart of gold. Hagy and Halenda play off each other like the pros they are but also find the truth of two faithful and longtime friends.

BWW Reviews: Southern Belles Ring True with Riverside Center's Winning STEEL MAGNOLIAS
Carol Hagy (seated) as Clairee and Kathy Halenda
as Ouiser in Riverside's STEEL MAGNOLIAS.

Harling's ensemble is not complete without the mother and daughter pair, M'Lynn and Shelby. Starting with Shelby's wedding day, we see all of the 'magnolias' at their best, even as the pressures leading to a picture perfect wedding are played out in Truvy's salon. Constance Shofi is a little dynamo as M'Lynn, the stressed out mother of the bride who cares deeply for her daughter, even as they clash.

The heart of Harling's play is really Shelby, the character based on his own sister. Emily Perkins is ideally cast as the young bride whose grace, passion and humor are challenged by her medical condition. Perkins, a lovely girl, brings out each nuance of Shelby's mercurial nature and endears herself easily to those around her. This is a key point, since the play follows her journey from wedding day, pregnancy and untimely end. When Shelby is gone, her spirit is still felt among the ladies, especially with M'Lynn.

As Truvy says "laughter through tears" is her favorite emotion and that may be why STEEL MAGNOLIAS has remained popular for nearly 30 years. Riverside Center's production only runs through June 8, so grab a friend and a handful of tissues and head to Fredericksburg.

Riverside Center presents STEEL MAGNOLIAS by Robert Harling

Produced by Patrick A'Hearn

Directed by Sherri Edelen

Featuring (alphabetical) Carol Hagy, Kathy Halenda, Jennifer Joyner, Andrea Kahane, Emily Perkins, and Constance Shofi. Lighting Design: Joseph Wallen; Scenic Coordination: Matthew P. Westcott and Stephanie Smith; Costume Coordination: Gaye Law; Stage Manager: Ben Feindt.

Through June 8, 2014 at the Riverside Center, 95 Riverside Parkway, Fredericksburg, VA 22406 (south of DC off of I-95). Call 540.370.4300 or visit Riverside Center's website HERE.

Photo Credits: Riverside

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From This Author Jeffrey Walker

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