If it's true that life imitates art, then Thunder Bay Theatre's upcoming production got it right. Not only are the six actresses appearing together in the show great friends, but they also are playing characters whose thread of friendship runs deep.
TBT Artistic Director J.R. Rodriguez invites the public to spend a little time in the fictional Louisiana parish of Chinquapin with the opening next week of Robert Harling's comedy-drama, "Steel Magnolias." The show runs April 26 through May 6.
"I'm extremely passionate about this show," said North Carolina native Rodriguez, who believes that the show is quintessentially Southern. "The audience should not think of it as spending time at Thunder Bay Theatre, but as spending time at Chinquapin Parish."
Appearing in Thunder Bay Theatre’s upcoming production of “Steel Magnolias” are, front row left, Suni Travis, Nickie Hilton, Carol Rundell and Terry Carlson, and back row, Kendra McInerney and Emily Szatkowski.
"Steel Magnolias" was originally staged off-Broadway in 1987, and then produced on Broadway in 2005. It was released as a film in 1989, going on to gross more than $83.7 at the box office and starring such Hollywood heavy hitters as Dolly Parton, Olympia Dukakis, Shirley MacLaine, Sally Field, Julia Roberts and Daryl Hannah.
Playwright Harling adapted his play for the big screen, writing in many additional characters beyond the original six, though TBT's production reflects only the six characters featured in the original screenplay. Rodriguez assembled a cast that includes Terry Carlson, Carol Rundell, Kendra McInerney, Nickie Hilton, Emily Szatkowski and Suni Travis.
"For us, the funnest part about the whole show is the cast," said McInerney, who plays the Julia Roberts character of Shelby. "We're all best friends and have a great chemistry. We all love each other. We do 'Steel Magnolias' every day in real life."
The show is about the bond among a group of women who as the title suggests, can be as delicate as magnolias but also as tough as steel. Their gathering place is Truvy's home-based beauty salon. Annelle (Szatkowski), a recent beauty school graduate, is hired by Truvy (Hilton) to work in the salon.
As the show opens, M'Lynn (Travis), a good friend of Truvy's and her daughter, Shelby, arrive to prepare for Shelby's wedding that is taking place later that day. Arriving at the salon are Ouiser Boudreaux (Carlson), a grouchy, two-time widow, and Clairee Belcher (Rundell), also a widow who is more cheerful and enjoys taking cracks at Ouiser whenever possible. The group of women ranging in age from 18 to 80 share life's unavoidable crises and offer a vital support system even as they exchange gossip and barbs.
"The show is so well-written," said Hilton. "Anybody can relate to these six women. They are all different, but they are such strong personalities."
Since the show is set in the 1980s, McInerney has been busy pulling together appropriate fashions from that decade. "The costumes are going to be so fun," she said.
Hilton has been receiving some hair styling instruction for her role as Truvy from local stylist Tracie Papin, who owns a home-based hair styling business, InJoy Salon. Papin is also helping to dress the set.
In conjunction with "Steel Magnolias" and the Association of Lifelong Learners, a "Steel Magnolias Bloom in Spring" Art Show and Auction opens this Saturday in the lobby of TBT.
It will feature more than 40 pieces of art by local artists. The auction will run through May 6, with all proceeds to be split between ALL and the theatre. The artworks also can be seen and bids placed online at www.ThunderBayTheatre.com.
Show times for "Steel Magnolias" are 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For reservations, call the TBT box office at 354-2267.