reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre begins their 2020 season with a perennial favorite comedy-drama, Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling. The play had its off-Broadway premiere in 1987, before it appeared as a successful film in 1989.

Directed by James Hesselman, with colorful costumes by Jill Kelly Howe, on a set designed by Michael Layton, the story concerns the lives of six women – friends in a small southern town who share their triumphs and tragedies while at the local beauty parlor. It’s a familiar play – I have seen it 4 or 5 times at least, mostly in community theatre venues, plus the very well done movie. Sometimes, when attending such a recognizable piece, one is not quite so taken in by it as on earliest viewings. That’s not the case with B&B’s well-cast production. Every moment of joy, laughter, concern, distress and pain is meaningful – conveyed with a deft understanding of the play’s varied themes.

The cast of B&B’s “Steel Magnolias” – from left, Morgan Jackson (Annelle), Deb Wims (Truvy), Lari White (Shelby), Suzanne Stark (Clairee), Diane Kondrat (M’Lynn), and Kay Francis (Ouiser)

This is truly an ensemble piece and every member of the company turns in a high-level performance. Deb Wims proves she is more than purely a musical performer with a terrific turn as beauty shop operator, Truvy. Ms. Wims delves into the lady’s fun-loving nature with a genuine touch of lowdown southern spunk. Morgan Jackson takes on the task of the play’s most unpredictable character, the young and confused Annelle, and does a noteworthy job stepping her through her many phases. Suzanne Stark is well-suited as Clairee, the well-heeled former “First Lady of Chinquapin”. Ms. Stark delivers her character’s prodding, sometimes snarky (but hilarious) remarks with savvy skill.

from left: Diane Kondrat as M’Lynn and Lari White as Shelby share a moment in B&B’s “Steel Magnolias”.

Lari White is immensely engaging as the central character, fated bride-to-be Shelby. Her rendition as the sweet, wide-eyed, risk adverse young woman is honest and true. Her mother M’Lynn, as offered by Diane Kondrat, is an equal opposing force – and Ms. Kondrat’s fit of righteous emotion in the final scene is a most credible piece of work by this much accomplished actress.

Kay Francis ably portrays the antithesis of merry with her funny, cantankerous Ouiser – always looking for a subject to be grumpy about, but lovably concerned at the end. These six ladies work so well together, with a seamless delivery of lines and a finely tuned sense of timing and pace. Director Hesselman has much to be proud of in his B&B directorial debut.

Shelby (Lari White, seated center) regales the beauty shop group with tales of skinny-dipping with her husband-to-be in a scene from B&B’s “Steel Magnolias”

Bottomline: Familiarity of story never gets in the way of this extremely well done presentation. The characters live. The comedy is satisfying. And the personal human tragedy will jerk a tear or two. I recommend that you come out and enjoy it.

Steel Magnolias continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through February 2nd. Find show times and reservations at http://www.beefandboards.com or call the box office at 317-872-9664.

  • – photos by Julie Curry