As a director, Matthew Michael said he was drawn directing “Steel Magnolias” because he loves the story.
As a professional hair stylist, he said he knew he could help stage a play that takes place entirely inside a hair salon and make it feet like reality.
“That’s my life every day,” he said. “I understand the connection that women have with their hairdresser and other women in their beauty salon.”
“Steel Magnolias” opens June 14 at the Evergreen Playhouse in Centralia. It is Michael’s first experience directing a full-length show at the Evergreen Playhouse, though he has acted on the Evergreen stage in numerous pieces. He has prior experience directing in the Olympia area for both adults and youth. He said it was the Evergreen Board’s choice of “Steel Magnolias” that motivated him to put his name in the running to direct this season.
“It really was the show,” Michael said. “It’s such an iconic show. People know the movie but I think they don’t understand the movie first came from a play.”
The stage version of “Steel Magnolias” follows the same storyline of the 1989 movie starring Dolly Parton, Sally Field and Julia Roberts (among others), a story of a small group of female friends in a small town in Louisiana. Michael explained that the movie version included locations and characters that were added to the original script. The stage version has just six characters: Truvy (portrayed by Nicole Galyean); Clairee (portrayed by Alene Stewart); M’Lynn (portrayed by Brenda Crummett); Shelby (portrayed by Scarlet Nixon-Klein); Ouiser (portrayed by Theresa Hilliard); and Annelle (portrayed by Emilie Brown). And the entire story takes place inside Truvy’s hair salon.
“More than friendship, it’s like an extended family,” Stewart said of the characters. “Their lives intertwine. They’ve known each other forever growing up in a small town.”
The story is told through a series of meetings between the women at the salon over a couple year period. The play begins with the wedding day of the headstrong Shelby, daughter of long-time salon customer M’Lynn. The same quick wit and one-liners that were popular with moviegoers are present in the stage version, as are the melancholy parts that earned the movie the tagline of “the funniest movie that will ever make you cry.” The audience gets glimpses of their lives and sees how this group of friends weathers love, anger, triumph and tragedy together.
“It’s very well written and it’s real. And it’s very moving,” said Hilliard of what she thinks audiences will love about the show. “It’s done beautifully. It’s real and it’s a very important story.”
The movie version of “Steel Magnolias” was cast with many iconic actresses but Michael said when he was looking for his cast, he looked to the notes in the script, which said the actresses should be real women who can act the part of real friends on stage. Many of the women in the cast said they would not let themselves watch the movie as source material because they really wanted to make the characters their own. Portraying the crotchety but caring Ouiser, Hilliard said she stayed away from thinking about Shirley MacLaine and instead thought about how writer Robert Harling wrote the character.
“The wonderful thing about acting is you are not playing the other actors who have played your part you make the part your own,” Hilliard said. “It’s my favorite thing about theater. I love finding out who the character is.”
Creating the feel of years of friendship in just a few short weeks of rehearsals was another challenge facing this small cast of “Steel Magnolias”. Crummett said some of the actresses did not know each other well when they began rehearsals but she feels they have created a bond on stage that can be felt by audiences.
“All the women in the cast have just a genuine love for telling the story and I think that comes out in the show,” Crummett said.
Michael noted he and one member of the crew are the only men working on the show. The rest of the cast and crew are female, which he said he feels really adds to the power of this story of female friendship.
“I appreciate them letting me take this on,” Michael said of his cast and crew.