Review: Studio Tenn honors women in excellent production of 'Steel Magnolias'

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Studio Tenn’s new Artistic Director Patrick Cassidy said on opening night Friday, Feb. 7, their presentation of “Steel Magnolias,” based on strong women, would honor the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote. 

The outstanding production of Broadway’s smash hit is a perfect tribute to celebrate strong women. The play, written by Robert Harling, is based on the real the death of his sister and her close relationships with her mother and women friends. 

It is set in Louisiana in Truvy’s Hair Salon, which is the gathering watering hole for the show’s six female friends. The first scene opens at Truvy’s on the morning of the wedding of Shelby, played by Emily Katherine McLean, a beautiful, young, passionate woman whose wedding “signature” colors are pink. Shelby is happy and in love, but, because of a lifelong illness of diabetes, has been told she should not have children.

Her loving mother, M’Lynn, is played by Shannon Hoppe. M’Lynn has sons, but Shelby is her only daughter, and because of Shelby’s illness, M’Lynn has probably tried too hard to protect her, since Shelby stubbornly plans to rebel and have children in spite of the dangers. 

Truvy, played by Megan Murphy Chambers, owns a nice little hair salon that she and her husband made out of her garage. She is a close loving friend to the women who come there and a big believer in big hair and lots of hairspray. She also actually puts together some great hairdos on stage.

Clairee, played by Sandra Baxter, whose late husband left her well off, is the practical one. However, being practical sometimes falls apart when dealing with the earthier woman of the group, Ouiser, played by Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva, an honest, loving, but outrageous woman. Clairee says, “She’s so dumb. She thinks Sherlock Holmes is a subdivision!”

Annelle, played by Kelsie Louise Craig, is the newcomer to this strong band of friends, as she joins Truvy’s Salon as a hairdresser. She is sweet, naïve and already a victim of a disappearing husband who took everything she had, so the group instantly takes her in.

The show is beautifully directed by Beki Baker. She has these incredible six actresses hold the show together with sincere believability through the happy and hard times. These women bring their characters to life with great strength and a real honesty as they show their love and support to each other, with their delightful comedy and their heartfelt tears as they grow closer and stronger together. The audience feels like they’re watching close friends.

The flower of the Magnolia tree has stunningly lovely large white petals, and while the flower appears fragile, it is really incredibly tough. Magnolias have been found in fossils dated over 20 million years old, meaning they have outlasted the dinosaurs. These six Southern women are obviously named after the correct flower.

“Steel Magnolias” plays until Feb. 23, at The Factory at Franklin. For more information, go to StudioTenn.com.

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