Little Theatre of Alexandria performs well-acted remake of ‘Steel Magnolias’

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Little Theatre of Alexandria performs well-acted remake of ‘Steel Magnolias’
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By Jordan Wright (Photo/Misty Angel)

Most of you likely recall the 1989 movie “Steel Magnolias.” You know the one, with Julia Roberts as Shelby, the bride-to-be who suffers from diabetes, and Sally Field as her disapproving mother M’Lynn.

And who can forget Dolly Parton in the role of Truvy Jones, the sweet and sexy beauty shop owner? Or Shirley MacLaine as Ouiser, the wisecracking senior who calls it as she sees it? It had a killer cast that also starred Olympia Dukakis as Clairee, the wife of the town’s former mayor, and was a true story based on the death of playwright Robert Harling’s sister.

Or maybe you saw the all-black cast in the 2012 Lifetime TV remake with Queen Latifah and Phylicia Rashad. The sublime Alfre Woodard played Ouiser and Jill Scott was Truvy. It was a flop, but when it comes to dissing husbands and the enduring power of sisterhood, it seems there is always an audience and always a remake. This time, the Little Theatre of Alexandria puts its own spin on the familiar tale.

Set in Truvy’s beauty salon in small-town Chinquapin, La., the plot revolves around six women whose lives intersect through family and friendship. Unlike the original film, this version features an all-female cast.

Carla Crawford shines as Truvy. Her timing and delivery are flawless. Both the glue and the dynamic force in this production, I hope to see her play more leading lady roles. Alana D. Sharp in the role of M’Lynn shows dramatic skill in her second act soliloquy, and Kelsey Yudice offers up a nuanced performance as the ever-optimistic Shelby.

Susan Smythe brings a sympathetic tenderness to Annelle, the wayward Bible thumper, and the ever-talented Patricia Spencer Smith, as Ouiser, who gets some of the best lines and best laughs, is hilarious. Conversely, Brenda Parker is such a fine, well-established actor that it was puzzling to watch her interpretation of Clairee morph from a good ole gal into a British snob. Oh well, it was opening night.

Although there are laughs aplenty in this all-female cast, the humor is so dated that most born after the 1980s will have no earthly idea what they are talking about. Call waiting as a novelty? Having your “colors done?” Note to younger readers: It means getting a clothing and makeup color palette chosen to suit your skin and hair tones. It was a once a life-or-death thing.

Though the Little Theatre of Alexandria has made their bones putting on top-notch musicals, delightfully bawdy British drawing room comedies and intricately staged murder mysteries, I had been encouraged of late to watch them expand their work with edgier productions, even controversial themes. Last season, the troupe appeared keen on attracting a new, younger audience, critical to all theaters, with “Laughing Stock,” “In the Heights” and “God of Carnage.” Even “Spamalot” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” were far braver than past productions.

That said, director Sharon Veselic has assembled some fine actors to bring this old comedy to life. And, whatever you think of the 1980s, leg warmers are coming back — and not just for Truvy’s sake.

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