OGDEN — I grew up watching the movie adaption of Robert Harding’s Steel Magnolias, so I was familiar with the play going into the Ziegfeld Theater’s production. But despite the fact that the movie’s portrayals are what immediately come to mind when I think of each character—Julie Roberts as Shelby, Dolly Parton as Truvy, Sally Field as M’Lynn, to name a few—the Zig’s cast members were able to stand on their own and create interesting and original characters with the same material.
In case you aren’t as familiar with Steel Magnolias as I am, the entire play takes place in Truvy’s beauty parlor and has just six characters—girlfriends who meet often at Truvy’s parlor. The show is all about relationships, particularly a poignant one between a mother, M’Lynn, and her diabetic daughter, Shelby.
At the Zig, Kristin Parry as M’Lynn and Krystal Day as Shelby were a believable and touching mother-daughter duo. The pair have emotionally intimate scenes together, and both women acted them beautifully, particularly during the scene in which Shelby tells her mother big news that M’Lynn is not so happy about. The tension and love between the two characters was well expressed by both actresses, an important plus as their relationship is at the heart of this play.
Because Steel Magnolias is all about human connections, it is critical that the actresses work off of one another and have great chemistry—which the performers at the Zig definitely did. Director Morgan Parry and assistant director Rick Rea did a stellar job of helping the actresses form a cohesive cast. The show has emotional major highs and lows—often in the same scene—which require quick timing and the ability to interact well with each other. Thanks in large part to the cast’s bond, no jokes fell flat, and the more dramatic moments were believable and deeply moving shared moments between the performers.
Though each actress held her own, Kristin Parry as M’Lynn was my favorite of the night. M’Lynn is a complicated character to play—serious but with a sharp sense of humor and wit, as well as highly invested in her daughter’s well-being while also keeping a steady keel. Parry portrays the many sides of M’Lynn splendidly and even in the more dramatic moments—like M’Lynn’s emotional breakdown in the final scene of the play—Parry stays true to the character’s mannerisms, gestures, and motivations.
As far as comic relief goes, Erica Chofell as Annelle, Alyn Bone as Clairee, and Carol Thomas as Ouiser each excelled. Chofell’s Annelle was vulnerable, quirky, and hilariously awkward. I actually enjoyed Bone’s Clairee more than the classic movie’s version as Bone brought a greater depth of southern-slanted humor to the character. Bone also delivered the best punch lines of the night flawlessly, particularly during a second-act gossip session in which she is “reporting” on Ouiser’s supposed love-life with a man from Ouiser’s past. Ouiser herself as a character is always a solid choice for laughs and Thomas delivered, portraying a lovable but feisty Ouiser that was as fun as she was ornery.
Rachel Holdaway’s portrayal of Truvy took some warming up to. Her southern accent, particularly in the first scenes, was so on-again, off-again it was distracting, and she seemed to be playing the character too mildly for my taste. As the show went on, though, the social butterfly and outgoing beautician that is Truvy emerged and Holdaway’s accent remained consistent enough to no longer be an issue. Last but not least, Krystal Day’s Shelby was sweet, light, charismatic, and lovable—everything the character needs to be. Day’s buoyancy contrasted nicely with Parry’s more serious M’Lynn, and Day’s Shelby was an extremely likable character, almost forcing tears from the audience members as a result of the tragedies that befall her.
I have seen two shows at the Zig—Next to Normal and now Steel Magnolias—and both times I have been utterly impressed by the production quality. Though the theater appears bare-bones in its recycled audience seats and very basic surroundings and stage, the execution of technical elements seems consistently flawless. In this show in particular the sound was perfectly executed. At several points in the show there is a radio that the characters whack periodically to get music to play. Each time the characters hit the radio, the music was immediately and seamlessly on. While this may not seem like that big of a deal, it showed that the board operator, Keeyan Corbitt, knew what he was doing and followed closely along (which sometimes is not the case, unfortunately). It also shows that being “good enough” is not the goal of the people who run the Zig. I also appreciated the set (designed by Caleb Parry), though not fancy or extravagant, because it created just the right 1980’s beauty parlor vibe, complete with neon blue walls and 1980’s hair posters.
Overall, this show was an emotional rollercoaster ride in the best way. The quality of the production, particularly in the second act, was so high that I was fully engrossed in the world of the play, and I found myself rejoicing and mourning with the characters. I highly recommend the Zig’s production of Steel Magnolias for anyone looking for a superbly performed, entertaining, but also touching show. Just be prepared for a pleasant estrogen high—and of course bring some tissues!