After a 15-month hiatus, Everyman Theatre returned to live, in-person performances this month, sparking off its 31st season with a refreshing revival of Steel Magnolias, showcasing the brillance of its all-female ensemble, each member bringing her individual dynamism, dimension, and variety to the endearing ’80s tale of friendship and sisterhood that stands the test of time.
Though most people are familiar with the popular 1989 film version, featuring an all-star cast of celebrated actresses (Julia Roberts, Sally Fields, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, and Olympia Dukakis), Steel Magnolias is actually based on an original story by Robert Harling, a New York actor from Louisiana, who wrote the play as a tribute to his sister six months after she passed away from complications due to diabetes.
Set in a lively beauty salon in northwestern (Chinquapin) Louisiana, where six very distinctive and uniquely interesting Southern women gather over the span of three years, sharing their highs, lows, and just about every tidbit in between, award-winning Director Casey Stangl, together with the set designer Milagros Ponce De Leon, lighting designer Harold F. Burgess II, sound designer Twi McCallum, and costume designer David Burdick, creates an impressively multipurposed stage where each character can efficiently transform her hair while exchanging hilariously fun dialogue and repartee.
Following a warm welcome by Managing Director Marissa LaRose and Artistic Director Vincent M. Lancisi to a fully vaccinated (everyone had to present their vaccination card upon entry to the theater) and masked, yet engagingly enthusiastic audience, Resident Company member Megan Anderson (recently hailed by The Baltimore Sun as “Best Stage Actor in Baltimore”) as salon owner Truvy immediately captivates with her colorful wardrobe, eye-catching hair, and vibrant personality; she is as quick-witted and sassy as a late-night comedian but is equally warm and big-hearted. It is easy to see why Truvy’s Beauty Parlor is the epicenter where a community of women regularly convene to discuss the seminal moments of their lives.
Every member of the cast is outstanding and holds her own, presenting interweaving subplots, centering around local social leader M’Lynn (Beth Hylton) and her daughter Shelby’s (Katie Kleiger) wedding, marriage, and journey to become a mom.
Annelle’s (Heather A. Gibson) transformation from a withdrawn, meek girl/aspiring beautician with a mysterious past to a born-again Christian and former-mayor’s widow Clairee’s (Nancy Robinette) self-discovery in the wake of her husband’s death made for humorous exchanges throughout the show, but Helen Hedman’s performance as grouchy and sarcastic Ouiser was particularly scene-stealing; her read of “not crazy, just in a bad mood for 40 years” with her perpetually sourpuss expression was hysterical at almost every turn.
Likewise, Kleiger’s Shelby was well-balanced with poised charm and resilient optimism; she readily conveyed her determination to live life to the fullest and inspiringly steadfast quest to become a mother. She and Hylton’s M’Lynn realistically demonstrated the ebbs and flows of a mother-daughter relationship in a relatable manner.
Similarly, Gibson’s take of Annelle was enjoyable to watch; she brought a notable openness and nuanced authenticity to the role that was genuine, making her insight and perspective in the second act all the more compelling and impactful.
Endearingly heartwarming, Everyman’s production of Steel Magnolias combines beauty and strength with wit and charm, demonstrating the enduring power of friendship and the therapeutic magic of laughter in navigating life’s challenges with tenacity.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, with an intermission.
Steel Magnolias runs through September 5, 2021, at Everyman Theatre, 315 West Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD. The show may be streamed August 27 through September 19, 2001. Tickets may be purchased online or by calling 410-752-2208. Box office hours are Monday to Friday from 9 am until 6 pm, and Saturdays from 10 am until 5 pm.