Does anyone need a synopsis of Steel Magnolias, the warm comedy-drama opening Aug. 26 at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre?
Maybe, but probably not. The show is as ubiquitous on television and in area theaters as the lovely magnolia grandiflora is along coasts from South Carolina to Mississippi and on into northwestern Louisiana and East Texas.
Even so, theatergoers flock to each new production as though it's fresh off the shelf. Indeed, playwright Robert Harling's story of six central Louisiana ladies coming together for weekly hairdos at a home-based beauty shop is as rewatchable as reruns of The Andy Griffith Show. It has the same cozy, reassuring feel that no matter what happens, life does go on.
Steel Magnolias — a reference to lovely, soft exteriors with the inner strength of iron — is set in the 1980s in the fictional town of Chinquapin, La., reminiscent of the real town of Natchitoches, an old, moss-draped town in northern Louisiana.
It takes place in Truvy's Beauty Salon, set up in the rear of Truvy Jones' house, where friendships are forged over years of exchanging gossip and observations about the town while sitting in one of the shop's two chairs or under the hair dryers.
The outspoken, wisecracking Truvy (Patti Eyler, title roll in Hello, Dolly) has just hired a new assistant, the shy newcomer, Annelle Dupuy (Rachel Perin, Anytime Annie in 42nd Street), who isn't sure whether or not she's married.
It's wedding day for young Shelby Eatenton (Bevin Prince, Show Palace debut), the daughter of the town's social leader, M'Lynn Eatenton (Susan Haldeman, Mrs. Meers, Thoroughly Modern Millie), and everyone is getting dolled up for the big event.
M'Lynn is happy about the wedding and likes her soon-to-be son-in-law Jackson, but she's fearful that Shelby will have a child, which could endanger her life, as she is a Type 1 diabetic.
The story covers the next three years, with M'Lynn encouraged and comforted by some unlikely friends — the cranky town millionaire Ouiser Boudreaux (Jacque Wheeler, Show Palace debut), and her equally rich pal, Miss Clairee (Kay Francis, Esther in Breaking Up) — as Shelby does indeed have a baby and consequent health problems.
They all share their triumphs and fears and come together when times get rough.
"It's such a thrill to present our most-requested play here at Show Palace," said Matthew McGee, artistic director and production stage manager. One particularly interesting casting choice is Ms. Wheeler, who was McGee's theater arts instructor at Valdosta State University in Georgia.
Director is Scott Daniel (Seymour in Little Shop), with Ms. Haldeman as managing director, Tom Hansen doing sets and lighting design and Tony Sessa on sound design.
As a summer special, producers Nick Sessa and his new business partner Tommy Mara are offering a buy-one-get-one-half-price dinner and show. This means that instead of paying $99, plus tax, two people can come for $74.25, plus tax, which is less than two "show only" tickets.
"It's like getting dinner for free, and then some — something extra we want to do for our customers," Sessa said.