Riverside Center Dinner Theater presents Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias, a poignantly funny story about love, friendship, and the strength of women, directed by Helen Hayes Award winner Sherri L. Edelen, in her successful directorial debut. Known exclusively for their Broadway-quality musicals, Riverside embraces a dramatic play for the first time with Steel Magnolias, and I didn’t miss the music one bit!
Scenic Coordinators Matthew P. Westcott and Stefannie Smith create an on-stage beauty salon, complete with manicure stations, dated 80’s hairstyle posters, and hairdressing chairs. Open and spacious without being plain, the detailed set is spotted with feminine touches like yellow wallpaper and floral curtains, making this a welcoming, friendly atmosphere. Lighting Designer Joseph Wallen and Technical Director Phil Carlucci ensure that the cast is both seen and heard (the mic’ing was impressive– I didn’t miss a single word).
Costume Designer Gaye Law depicts each character’s personality through their individual wardrobes. For example, Truvy, played by (the energetic Andrea Kahane, is a glamorous woman, and it is shown in her colorful, dressy attire, while Annelle, (the sweet Jennifer Joyner), is a meek young lady that dons simpler clothes.
This play explores the friendship between six vibrant women, including worrisome M’Lynn Eatenton (a wonderful performance by Constance Shofi) and her cheerful daughter Shelby (a heartwarming performance by Emily Perkins). As life takes them through joyous phases (weddings! babies!) and also through extreme tragedy, their dynamic bond carries them onward, using each other for steady and true support through their triumphs and struggles. The dialogue is expertly written, and the talented cast delivers the material with great chemistry and verve.
Carol Hagy delivers zingy one-liners throughout the show as the witty Clairee Belcher, and Kathy Halenda is fantastic as the crotchety old Ouiser Boudreaux, bursting onto the stage like a whirlwind and shouting, “I could just spit!” before slamming the door behind her. The actresses each do justice for their characters, with deeply unique, charismatic, and comedic performances. This is a great ensemble, and they are directed with so much ‘heart’ and love by Sherri L. Edelen.
What makes this show so impressive is that you will find yourself laughing throughout its entirety…even when you are crying. When Truvy says, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion,” you are right there with her in the moment.
I had a great time at Steel Magnolias (bring your mother along for this one!). Riverside Center Dinner Theater is offering a short run for this production– so catch it before it’s gone!
Running Time: Approximately two and a half hours, including one 15-minute intermission.