It’s a story that resonates with all generations, with all genders and with people who want both a good laugh and a good cry from their theater-going experience.
It’s Steel Magnolias, written for the stage in 1987 by Robert Harling and later adapted into the 1989 hit film starring Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Dolly Parton and Shirley MacLaine. The story about the bond among a group of Louisiana women comes to the Temple Theatre stage in Sanford March 12-29.
Temple Artistic Director Peggy Taphorn (who’s also directing the play) said the theater’s pentultimate production of the 2019-2020 season is not just a well-written stage classic, but it also has a timely message.
“We could all use some healing, whether it’s emotional or as a community or nation — Steel Magnolias addresses a lot of issues,” Taphorn said. “The way these women rely on their friendships and their community to get them through difficult times — we don’t all have to agree with each other, but we do all have to come together at some point. This play does that beautifully.”
Two big differences between the stage version and the film — the stage cast is all women (the husbands, boyfriends and sons are only mentioned), and everything takes place in the beauty shop. The play opens with talk of Shelby’s wedding day and weaves in and out of stories about her ongoing illness, Clairee’s friendship with the curmudgeon Ouiser, Annelle’s transformation from a shy newcomer to a party girl and eventually to a repentant Christian and Truvy’s relationships with the men in her family.
“Every woman in this show goes through a major journey in the two hours of the play,” Taphorn added. “No one ends up where they started. And my favorite way to tell emotional stories like this is through humor, and that’s what this play does so well. It also deals with loss, and really, just does a fantastic job of telling the human experience.”
And the characters each represent different generations — Shelby (played by Traci Yeo) and Annelle (Lilly Nelson) are in their 20s, Truvy (Caryn Crye) and M’Lynn (Melanie Simmons) are middle-aged, and Ousier (Lynda Clark) and Clairee (Elizabeth Michaels) represent the seniors.
Aside from Clark, the cast are either relatively or entirely new to the Temple Theatre stage. A day removed from the cast’s first rehearsal, Taphorn said they have a winning ensemble.
“Ninety percent of the challenge as a director is casting,” she said. “Our cast comes to us from Wilmington, Charlotte and from our region, and I’m really excited to bring these women together, because I think they’re phenomenal. They’re all strong actors, and if our first table read is any indication, we’re in for a treat.”
When Steel Magnolias ends its three-week run in Sanford, it will head south to Southern Pines’ Sunrise Stage for two shows on April 4 and a third show on April 5. The weekend is the start of a collaboration between the established Temple Theatre and the historic Sunrise, which is bringing back live community theater to downtown Southern Pines (the “art house” is currently known for first-run and independent films, concerts, live broadcasts of the Met Opera, the Bolshoi Ballet in cinema and other arts and entertainment events.
The Temple’s Steel Magnolias cast and crew will all head south for the three-show run.
“They don’t yet have the production values, the lighting and sound packages for a show like this, so we’re looking to give them a leg up,” Taphorn said. “I’m happy to see more theaters establishing themselves, and I’m happy to get more people into the habit of seeing live theater. And it helps the Temple in the long run, because if people see a Temple production in Southern Pines or in Asheboro, and they like what they see, they’ll make the trip to Sanford to see more shows.”
Temple Theatre will end its season with the hit musical Mama Mia from April 23 to May 10. More information can be found and tickets can be purchased at templeshows.com.