Steel Magnolias (play)
|Written by||Robert Harling|
|Place premiered||Lucille Lortel Theatre
New York City
|Setting||Truvy's Beauty Spot, Northwest Louisiana, Chinquapin Parish|
Steel Magnolias is a comedy–drama play about the bond among a group of Southern women in northwest Louisiana. It is written by Robert Harling, based on his experience with the death of his sister. The title suggests the "female characters are as delicate as magnolias but as tough as steel". The magnolia specifically references a magnolia tree they are arguing about at the beginning.
The action centers on Truvy's beauty parlour and the women who regularly gather there. The story begins on the morning of Shelby's wedding to Jackson and covers events over the next three years, including Shelby's decision to have a child despite having Type 1 diabetes and the complications that result from the decision. There is also a glimpse of the unlikely friendship between Clairee and Ouiser; Annelle's transformation from a shy, anxious newcomer in town to a good-time girl and then to a revival-tent Christian; and Truvy's relationships with the men in her family. Although the main storyline involves Shelby, her mother M'Lynn, and Shelby's medical battles, the underlying group-friendship among all six women is prominent throughout the drama.
As noted in the Special Features on the Steel Magnolias DVD, the story of Steel Magnolias is based on the death of Robert Harling's younger sister, Susan Harling Robinson, a diabetic. As her best friend and closest sibling, Harling found it very difficult to cope with her death. He was advised by many of his friends to write about his feelings as a coping method. It began as a short story and evolved into a full length play as Harling didn't feel that a short story adequately conveyed the complexity of the relationships and the emotions that existed within the characters. Harling felt it important to include the way the characters utilized humor and lighthearted conversations to assist them in coping with the seriousness of the underlying situations. Harling wanted the moviegoers to have a true experience of what his family endured during his sister's hospitalization. One of the ways he did this was by employing the nurses, doctors and other hospital staff that worked with his sister as characters in the movie portraying their real life roles.
The setting is the fictional small town of Chinquapin, Louisiana which is located in the (also fictional) parish of Chinquapin.
The stage play, written by Robert Harling, is still popular today and has frequent productions mounted throughout the United States. It was originally staged Off-Broadway. All of the action of the play takes place solely on one set — Truvy's beauty salon, which is part of her house. There are only six characters (all female) that appear on stage. There is the voice of a DJ on the radio that is heard during the play. All the other characters (like the male characters) that appear in the film version are only referred to in the dialogue.
The original stage production opened Off-Broadway at the WPA Theatre, in New York City, on March 28, 1987. It was directed by Pamela Berlin and featured Margo Martindale as Truvy, Constance Shulman as Annelle, Kate Wilkinson as Clairee, Mary Fogarty as Ouiser, Blanche Baker as Shelby and Rosemary Prinz as M'Lynn. The production transferred to the Lucille Lortel Theatre on June 19, 1987, and closed on February 25, 1990 after 1,126 performances. Betsy Aidem took over the role of Shelby, and notable replacements included Rita Gardner as M'Lynn and Anne Pitoniak as Ouiser.
The premiere UK production of Steel Magnolias opened in the West End in March 1989 at the Lyric Theatre. It was directed by Julia McKenzie and featured Rosemary Harris as M’Lynn, Jean Boht as Ouiser, Janine Duvitski as Annelle, Stephanie Cole as Clairee, Maggie Steed as Truvy and Joely Richardson as Shelby. Steel Magnolias returned to the West End for a limited engagement at the Westminster Theatre March 30-April 9 1990 in a production mounted by Rose Bruford College: cast members included Stacey Oristano as Annelle, Sarah Annison (aka Sarah Kayte Foster) as Shelby, Summer Finley, Zia Firth and Jhea Fulargo. The first UK touring production of "Steel Magnolias" opened at the Theatre Royal Bath on 2 April 2012 and is scheduled to play at ten theatres including the Richmond Theatre in London during an eleven week run. Directed by David Gilmore, the cast consists of Denise Welch as Truvy, Isla Blair as M'Lynn, Sadie Pickering as Shelby, Cheryl Campbell as Ouiser, Kacey Ainsworth as Annelle and Cherie Lunghi as Clairee.
Steel Magnolias made its Broadway debut at the Lyceum Theatre, in previews starting on March 15, 2005 and officially on April 4, and closed on July 31, 2005 after 23 previews and 136 performances. Directed by Jason Moore, the cast included Delta Burke as Truvy, Christine Ebersole as M'Lynn, Rebecca Gayheart as Shelby, Marsha Mason as Ouiser, Lily Rabe as Annelle and Frances Sternhagen as Clairee.
There have been a number of Japanese language productions of the play. The most recent was staged by the Haiyuza Theatre Company from 14 November to 25 November 2007, in Tokyo. The production featured Mayuko Aoyama in the role of Truvy, Kaoru Inoue as Annelle, Mayumi Katayama as Clairee, Midori Ando as Shelby, Atsuko Kawaguchi as M'Lynn and Minae as Ouiser. The play was translated and directed by Hajime Mori.
A Swedish production premiered November 16, 2008 at Vasateatern in Stockholm in presence of Robert Harling. The cast included Cecilia Nilsson as Truvy, Pernilla August as M'Lynn, Melinda Kinnaman as Shelby, Suzanne Reuter as Ouiser, Linda Ulvaeus as Annelle and Gunilla Nyroos as Clairee. The play, called Blommor av Stål in Swedish, was directed by Emma Bucht and translated by Klas Östergren and Edward af Sillén.
An Irish production, directed by Ben Barnes will premiere at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin in September 2012 before embarking on a nationwide tour. The production will star Mischa Barton and Anne Charleston.
Original Off-Broadway cast
- Margo Martindale as Truvy
- Constance Shulman as Annelle
- Kate Wilkinson as Clairee
- Mary Fogarty as Ouiser
- Blanche Baker as Shelby
- Rosemary Prinz as M'Lynn.
The play was made into a film in 1989. It starred Sally Field as M'Lynn, Dolly Parton as Truvy, Shirley MacLaine as Ouiser, Daryl Hannah as Annelle, Olympia Dukakis as Clairee, and Julia Roberts as Shelby.
A two hour pilot for a projected half-hour weekly CBS-TV Steel Magnolias sitcom was shot in April 1990 in Natchitoches LA, the hometown of Robert Harling who served as screenwriter his script being a continuation of the story of the play/film Steel Magnolias. Thomas Schlamme directed a cast headlined by Cindy Williams as M’Lynn, Sally Kirkland as Truvy, Elaine Stritch as Ouiser, Polly Bergen as Clairee and Sheila McCarthy as Annelle. Ultimately CBS passed on the series giving the pilot a single airing on August 17 1990. 
Filming of an African-American cast version of Steel Magnolias for Lifetime TV is set to begin in Atlanta in April 2012: directed by Kenny Leon and scripted by Sally Robinson, the announced principals for this version are Queen Latifah as M’Lynn, Alfre Woodard as Ouiser, Phylicia Rashād as Clairee, Jill Scott as Truvy, Adepero Oduye as Annelle and Condola Rashād as Shelby.
- Hollinger, Karen. In The Company of Women: Contemporary Female Friendship Films, U of Minnesota Press, 1998, ISBN 0-8166-3177-8, p. 81
- Harling, Robert. Steel Magnolias. New York: Dramatists Play Service, Inc. 1988.
- Gussow, Mel.Stage: 'Steel Magnolias,' A Louisiana Story"The New York Times, March 27, 1987
- Billington, Michael. "Over-much Southern comfort", Manchester Guardian Weekly, March 19, 1989, p. 26 (Theatre Section)
- OC's Mischa 'Steels' the show Irish Herald. 11 July 2012
- Mischa Barton live on Moncrieff tomorrow Newstalk. 11 July 2012
- Victoria Advocate April 18 1990 p. 18