Live Theater Reviews

Theatre Review: STEEL MAGNOLIAS at Stages St. Louis

Posted: June 12, 2024 at 7:30 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Stages St. Louis kicks off its 38th season by visiting the south in Steel Magnolias. Told through the backdrop of a beauty parlor, the play explores friendship, grief, aging and the relationship between women. Set in a small town in Louisiana, the story revolves around six friends as they navigate life while supporting one another’s ups and downs. Mainly, this adaption focuses on the relationship between M’Lynn and her daughter Shelby, who is severely diabetic.

In the first act, the cast of characters is introduced as they prepare for Shelby’s wedding at Truvy’s beauty salon. Truvy has just hired a new assistant, Annelle, a woman with a secret past. Wealthy, eccentric, and widow of the town’s former mayor, Clairee, and cantankerous, but loving Ouiser, join Shelby’s mom M’Lynn to get ready for the festivities. As they gossip and chat, the truth of Shelby’s health issues is discovered. The act also highlights the close and yet complex relationships between Shelby and M’Lynn.

The second act continues to explore the lives of each woman. Shelby is desperate to have a child despite the health risks, Annelle is finding her place in the small town, and M’Lynn fears for her daughter’s health. The salon functions almost as a 7th character, with its surety, safety, and refuge for the women.  As the play concludes, the women rally around each other for support and camaraderie.

The cast is superb. The play is smartly acted, with each actor bringing nuances to their roles that complement the development of their friendships. Taylor Quick, as Shelby, embodies the character’s spunky and delightful nature, infusing her with infectious energy and a vibrant personality. Shelby’s health battles seem second to her ability to brighten the interactions on stage. Amy Loui playing M’Lynn delivers an emotional and heartbreaking performance capturing the grief of a mother who wants the best for her children. The interactions between Quick and Loui are poignant and showcase a mother/daughter relationship balanced with love, humor, and respect.

Rounding out the characters on stage, Jilanne Marie Klaus plays Truvy bringing a perfect blend of hilarity and heart to the role, resulting in a character with warmth, wit, and a lively spirit. Annelle is played by Abigail Isom, who perfectly captures the character’s essence, portraying her as mousy and young with a subtle charm. Kari Ely brings a worldly and guiding presence to the character of Clairee, exuding wisdom and sophistication. Ousier is brought to life by Zoe Vonder Haar who imbues the character with a unique blend of crankiness, humor, and unexpected warmth. Despite Clairee and Ousier’s frequent bickering and sharp exchanges, their bond reveals underlying care and mutual respect.

Fans familiar with the show’s plot will undoubtedly appreciate the memorable one-liners and witty dialogue. It’s safe to say that much of the play’s renown stems from its 1989 film adaptation. While enthusiasts of the movie will find enjoyment in the theatrical production, they may miss the nostalgia of seeing the characters as portrayed on the big screen. The stage rendition brings the recognizable lines to life, yet due to time constraints and scene limitations, it does not fully delve into the characters’ complexities. While we know Truvy grapples with her sons’ growing up, Annelle’s boyfriend is absent, and M’Lynn’s husband feuds with Ousier and despairs as Shelby’s health declines, without their physical presence, the play may lack some resolution as it progresses.

Ultimately, Steel Magnolias is an ode to friendship. The play beautifully captures the essence of friendship and the profound impact of having a supportive community of girlfriends. It’s about the people in life that make you smile through the tears. It is a touching play about life, relationships, and the joys and sorrows we all experience.

Steel Magnolias plays at Stages St. Louis through June 30th