Steel Magnolias (play)

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Steel Magnolias
Written by Robert Harling
Date premiered 1987
Place premiered Lucille Lortel Theatre
New York City
Original language English
Genre Drama
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. Written by Robert Harling, based on his experience with his sister's death. 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.[1]


The play opens with discussion of Shelby's wedding day to her fiancé, Jackson, in the fictional northwestern Louisiana parish of Chinquapin at Truvy's in-home beauty parlour where the women regularly gather. It covers events over the next three years with Shelby's Type 1 diabetes and how the women interact at times with conflict but in the end resolved friends: Shelby's decision to have a child despite the complication that can result from the condition, Clairee's friendship with the curmudgeon Ouiser; Annelle's transformation from a shy, anxious newcomer in town to a good-time girl then repentant 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.[2]


Based on the family experience of the play's author Robert Harling following the death in 1985 from diabetic complications of his sister after the birth of his namesake nephew and failure of a family member donated kidney. A writer friend following the death advised him to write it down to come to terms with the experience. He did but originally as a short story to give his nephew an understanding of the child's deceased mother. It eventually evolved in ten days to a play performed Off-Broadway before being adapted for Steel Magnolias movie (1989).[3]

Harling, maybe based on his short dry experience in the field of law ("not many laughs in Brown v. Board of Education")[4] felt it important to include the way the characters utilized humor and lighthearted conversations to cope with the seriousness of the underlying situations. Harling wanted the audience to have a true representation of what his family endured during his sister's experience.

Production history[edit]

US Productions[edit]

Originally opened Off-Broadway (with one set and an all-female cast although the voice of a male DJ on the radio is intermittent during the play with all male "characters" referenced only through dialogue) at the WPA Theatre, in New York City, on March 28, 1987, Pamela Berlin director. The production transferred to the Lucille Lortel Theatre on June 19, 1987, and closed on February 25, 1990 after 1,126 performances.[5] The Broadway debut opened 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.

Opening US Cast (1987)[edit]

Changes: Betsy Aidem took over the role of Shelby, and notable replacements included Stacy Ray as Shelby, Rita Gardner as M'Lynn and Anne Pitoniak as Ouiser.

Broadway Production (2005)[edit]

Non-US Productions[edit]

UK Productions[edit]

The premiere UK production opened in the West End in March 1989 at the Lyric Theatre; directed by Julia McKenzie.[6] It 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. The first touring company 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.[7]

Opening Cast[edit]

Rose Bruford College Cast[edit]

First UK Touring Production Cast[edit]

Japan Production[edit]

Staged by the Haiyuza Theatre Company from 14 November to 25 November 2007, in Tokyo, translated and directed by Hajime Mori. Cast: Mayuko Aoyama as Truvy, Kaoru Inoue as Annelle, Mayumi Katayam as Clairee, Midori Ando as Shelby, Atsuko Kawaguchi as M'Lynn and Minae as Ouiser.


Premiered November 16, 2008 at Vasateatern in Stockholm (with Robert Harling in attendance) titled "Blommor av Stål"; directed by Emma Bucht and translated by Klas Östergren and Edward af Sillén. The cast: 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.[citation needed]


Staged at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin September 11–22 September 2012, Ben Barnes, director and on country-wide tour until October 19, 2012. The cast included Mischa Barton and Anne Charleston.[8][9]

Screen Adaptations[edit]


Adapted, Steel Magnolias (1989)


CBS-TV produced the two-hour Steel Magnolias sitcom pilot in April 1990 in Robert Harling's childhood hometown of Natchitoches LA, he as screenwriter with his script being a continuation of Steel Magnolias (play) and Steel Magnolias film (1989) following the death of Shelby. Thomas Schlamme directed; cast: 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.[10]

Steel Magnolias (2012 film)[edit]

Steel Magnolias (2012) is an African-American cast set in fictional Chinquapin for a Lifetime TV production filmed in Atlanta, April 2012 (aired October 2012): directed by Kenny Leon and scripted by Sally Robinson. Cast: Queen Latifah as M'Lynn, Jill Scott as Truvy, Alfre Woodard as Ouiser, Phylicia Rashad as Clairee, Adepero Oduye as Annelle, and Condola Rashad (Tony-nominated, real-life daughter of Phylicia) as Shelby.[11]


  1. ^ Hollinger, Karen. In The Company of Women: Contemporary Female Friendship Films, U of Minnesota Press, 1998, ISBN 0-8166-3177-8, p. 81
  2. ^ Harling, Robert. Steel Magnolias. New York: Dramatists Play Service, Inc. 1988.
  3. ^ People Archives: Vol. 29, No. 3 (January 25, 1988), "Robert Harling, Author of a Hit Comedy Based on a Family Tragedy," By Kim Hubbard. cite web|url=,,20098146,00.html; "What’s Up, Robert Harling? Reflections on the 25th Anniversary of Steel Magnolias, Kristin Chenoweth in a Soapdish Musical & More." Interviews By Kathy Henderson November 28, 2012:
  4. ^ People Archives: Vol. 29, No. 3 (January 25, 1988), "Robert Harling, Author of a Hit Comedy Based on a Family Tragedy," By Kim Hubbard. cite web|url=,,20098146,00.html
  5. ^ Gussow, Mel.Stage: 'Steel Magnolias,' A Louisiana Story"The New York Times, March 27, 1987
  6. ^ Billington, Michael. "Over-much Southern comfort", Manchester Guardian Weekly, March 19, 1989, p. 26 (Theatre Section)
  7. ^
  8. ^;;; OC's Mischa 'Steels' the show Irish Herald. 11 July 2012
  9. ^ Mischa Barton live on Moncrieff tomorrow Newstalk. 11 July 2012
  10. ^ Victoria Advocate April 18, 1990 p. 18
  11. ^,,20609935,00.html;; " ‘Steel Magnolias’ Blooms Again with Queen Latifah and All Black Cast" By Luchina Fisher, Oct 5, 2012:

External links[edit]