REVIEW: Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s ‘Steel Magnolias’ boasts humor, heartache, and hairspray

A good story is usually rooted in truth.

Robert Harling’s ‘Steel Magnolias’ is partially based on a true story.  Harling wrote the play, ‘Steel Magnolias’ in 1987 and based it off of real people he knew in Louisiana.  In the popular 1989 film (which included a parade of famous actresses such as Dolly Parton, Olympia DukakisDaryl Hannah,  and Shirley MacLaine), the part of M’Lynn was portrayed by Sally Field and Julia Roberts was Shelby.  Harling based M’Lynn on his mother and Shelby (whose real name was Susan) on his sister.

Directed by Paula Plum, Hub Theatre Company of Boston celebrates the 30th anniversary of the 1989 film with comedy drama ‘Steel Magnolias’ continuing at Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s summer home, Club Cafe through Sunday, August 3.  This show is on a pay-what-you-can basis.  Click here for more information and tickets.

The Sleepless Critic also recently spoke to Hub Theatre of Boston Artistic Producing Director’s Lauren Elias about ‘Steel Magnolias,’ the future of Hub Theatre Company of Boston, and more.  Click here for the podcast.

Set entirely in Truvy’s Beauty Shop in Chinquapin, Louisiana in 1985, this bittersweet tale follows a group of vastly different women who find strength in each other through hardships and triumphs with a great deal of understanding, humor, and hairspray.  Though it has its share of serious themes, ‘Steel Magnolias’ offers more humor and relatable moments seeped in a wealth of 80s references that include mentions of Jane Fonda, and Elizabeth Arden.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston Steel Magnolias full cast 2

From L to R: Maureen Adduci as Ouiser, Liz Adams as M’Lynn, Oye Ehikhamhen as Shelby (center), Lauren Elias as Annelle, June Kfoury as Clairee, and Catherine Lee Christie as Truvy Photo courtesy of Hub Theatre Company of Boston

With bold costumes by Chelsea Kerl and Wig Master Caroline Clancy, the show impressively rewinds the clock into the 80s big hair era and memorable fashion sense while highlighting each woman’s distinct personality.  It is also refreshing to look at back at life at a time before the internet where people shared time, recipes, and hair tips in person.

Directed impressively by Paula Plum, ‘Steel Magnolias’ also thrives through its smart casting and the developing chemistry and growth between these primarily outspoken southern women, keeping this popular show fresh.  With a gift for gab and gossip, Catherine Lee Christie portrays Truvy Jones with charm and sass.  As a big fan of the movie, it is hard to imagine this part for anyone other than Dolly Parton, but Christie, in an array of distinct, sparkling, and mismatched fashion, rises to the occasion.  Her scenes with Lauren Elias as mysterious and humble Annelle make for some quirky, heartwarming moments.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston Steel Magnolias full cast

From L to Right: Maureen Aducci as Ouiser, Liz Adams as M’Lynn, Oye Ehikhamhen as Shelby (center), Lauren Elias as Annelle, June Kfoury as Clairee, and Catherine Lee Christie as Truvy Photo courtesy of Hub Theatre Company of Boston

Maureen Adduci’s sardonic, frank, and darkly amusing Ouiser delivers some of the most entertaining moments in the show.  Adduci’s exhausted scowl alone in Truvy’s cheery beauty salon is enough to crack a smile.  Her sarcastic facade rings true with the priceless line, “I don’t see plays because I can nap at home for free…and I don’t read books because if they are any good, they are going to make them into a miniseries.”  June Kfoury as Clairee, a stylish and gossip-driven widow with good intentions and a knowing smile, amuses herself by teasing Ouiser and their exchanges create their own spark.

However, the most captivating relationship is the family dynamic between Liz Adams as M’Lynn and Oye Ehikhamhen as M’Lynn’s daughter Shelby.  The push and pull between the two make it easy to see them as mother and daughter.  As in any mother-daughter relationship, one minute they exchange nagging barbs and the next, nurturing affection.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston Steel Magnolias Liz Adams as MLynn and Oye Ehikhamhen

Liz Adams as M’Lynn and Oye Ehikhamhen as Shelby Photo courtesy of Hub Theatre Company of Boston

Liz Adams portrays M’Lynn with a quiet, palpable tightness and a bundle of suppressed feelings.  It is easy to feel the weight of the world on her shoulders.  This M’Lynn has a bit of a tougher edge and a dry sense of humor as she meticulously looks after everyone but herself.  Though M’Lynn and Shelby are both dramatic and stubborn, Oye Ehikhamhen as Shelby is a ceaselessly optimistic force where happiness is a requirement, not an option.  With a broad smile and easy chemistry with the entire cast, Oye as Shelby shines in a charismatic, compassionate performance.

Club Cafe’s stage is an air-conditioned, intimate space that includes tables set up for food and drinks.  In honor of the production, Club Cafe offers themed specialty cocktails such as Truvy’s Twister, Blush and Bashful, Wack-A-Ouiser, and Chinquapin Parish Punch.

Directed by Paula Plum, rewind the clock and take a trip south to Truvy’s for Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s ‘Steel Magnolias’ at Club Café  at 209 Columbus Ave through Saturday, August 3. This show is on a pay-what-you-can basis.  Click here for more information about Hub Theatre and tickets.  Hub Theatre Company of Boston is also taking donations of beauty products and toiletries at every performance to be donated to Rosie’s Place and other charities.

Americana Theatre Company’s Michael Kirkland and Jennifer Martin talk bringing epic musical ‘Man of La Mancha’ to the South Shore

Americana Theatre Company is taking the South Shore on an epic quest in the multiple Tony Award-winning musical, Man of La Mancha at Spire Center for Performing Arts in Plymouth, Massachusetts through Sunday, July 29.  Starring TV personality Scott Wahle, a fascinating cast, and featuring a memorable score that includes the classic number, The Impossible Dream, Man of La Mancha is based on Cervantes’ masterpiece Don Quixote.

American Theatre Company’s Jennifer Martin and director Dr. Michael Kirkland discuss going through 500 audition tapes, their current season, and why Man of La Mancha sometimes felt like a farce.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Sleepless Critic:  This is your first time directing Man of La Mancha.

Michael Kirkland:  It is, but it is also my seventh La Mancha.  I’ve been blessed to portray Sancho Panza four times professionally.  I’ve also played The Barber, have choreographed the combat and violence in the show maybe six of the seven times, but have always longed to direct it.

SC:  Doing a show that many times makes you that much more prepared of what works and what doesn’t.

MK:  Directing the show is a real blessing because I have formulated well germinated ideas about the piece and I finally have an opportunity to experiment with those ideas, but I never lock myself out of the possibility of change.

SC:  Although Man of La Mancha is a comedy, Americana Theatre Company’s past production of The Three Musketeers also featured swordplay and took place in a similar time period.  Did the actors train the way they did for The Three Musketeers?

MK:  Yes, it is a physical show with combat fighting ranging from realistic to stylized to serious to comical narratives and techniques.  Similar challenges but different than swordplay.  Swordplay has more rules and challenges that come with it.  This is all hand to hand and found weapons, which are objects laying around that become unusual weapons.

SC:  Man of La Mancha’s The Impossible Dream in itself is epic.  So how did Americana decide to take on this show?

Jennifer Martin:  This is our third foray into musical theatre having taken on Grease and Lucky Stiff previously.  We try to choose stories that we believe matter, have great entertainment value, make our community better, and are ensemble driven.  Man of La Mancha is a storytelling, ensemble-driven show that works well with our company.  This show is great for that because Cervantes enters the prison and uses the prisoners to tell his story.

American Theatre Company Man of La Mancha

Scott Wahle as Don Quixote and Bethany Lauren James as Aldonza with Ruben Navarro as Sancho Panza

SC:  TV personality Scott Wahle stars as the Man of La Mancha.  He’s been in a few shows in the area such as Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s Guys and Dolls and Company Theatre’s Paragon Park.  He has a certain charisma and comic timing that fits Man of La Mancha.  How was the audition process?

JM:  We posted the audition on Backstage for our New York auditions and viewed about 500 audition videos for Aldonza, Sancho Panza, and Don Quixote (Cervantes).  After reviewing those videos, we traveled to New York and we did a full day of five minute audition slots.  We found Aldonza and Sancho Panza, but we still didn’t have our Man of La Mancha.  Americana’s President Peter Martin suggested his friend Scott Wahle.  Finding the Man of La Mancha was our actual quest and once we found him, everything fit into place.

SC:  What has been the show’s biggest challenge?

JM:  The first rehearsal process and making sure that above all, the words and richness of what was written is experienced by the audience while moving quickly.  The other challenge unique to our company is our four company members performing in the show are wearing multiple hats.  Managing Director David Friday plays The Governor and The Innkeeper while being the set builder and designer.  We’re doing a comedy, but sometimes it feels like a farce.

MK:  The concept we had settled upon affords an exploration of layers.  What I’m trying to communicate in this particular interpretation is even Cervantes does not completely understand the power of what he has written and it takes these prisoners and him watching how his story redeems them that truly brings home the power.

SC:  Man of La Mancha has something for everyone, but I think men will especially enjoy it.

MK:  It is a show with depth, substance, and great heart.  It also has some bite to it and aspects of it might be border line uncomfortable for people to experience.  I always think we can tell redemptive stories of girl scouts or in this particular instance, prostitutes.  The show makes a powerful statement by the end of this story.

Americana Theatre Company Man of La Mancha bow

The complete cast Photo credit to Denise Maccaferri

SC:  What’s been your favorite part of putting the show together?

MK:  I love to collaborate.  We had collaborative sessions on the telephone before we ever got here, just kicking around ideas then settling upon how we are to realize the conceptualization of the piece.  Then we start working with those people on a day to day basis bouncing ideas off each other, then trying things, and then trying them on the performers.  Theatre affords you what some more isolated performing arts don’t.  Theatre is created and performed in community.  Good ideas are great, and once it is on the stage, it’s not mine.  It’s ours.

SC:  The current season includes Man of La Mancha, Sleepy Hollow, and The Gifts of the Magi.  How do Americana select each season?

JM:  We look at what would be good for the town of Plymouth based on audience feedback of what they respond to, interested in, what they love, and what they are longing for.  We chose Man of La Mancha because we love the story, thought we could tell it well, and saw that it hasn’t been told for awhile in this area.

Our selection process takes about four months of thought and steady, hard work.  The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was chosen because we realize this area values holidays and traditional stories.  We thought of doing a one man version of Sleepy Hollow.  Our founding director Derek Martin is currently working on adapting the script and our Managing Director, David Friday, will be performing it.  We’re excited about performing an old, beautiful story in a simple, straight forward and creative manner.

The Gifts of the Magi is a lovely, six person musical so dear and true to the holiday season.  We wanted to tell a holiday story and keep the cast small in the wintertime because we want to perform it in the Center for the Arts, a small space.

SC:  Studio Americana youth program delves into a lot of big fantasy productions such as Peter Pan, Cinderella, The Wizard of Oz, and Alice in Wonderland.  I understand fall registration is still open.

JM:  Yes, registration is still open.  At Studio Americana, we work with each child individually which is why we keep the shows intentionally small so each student has an equal amount of time.  A lot of students say it’s the best part of their summer.

Studio Americana

Photo courtesy of Studio Americana

SC:  What do you envision the future of Americana Theatre Company?

JM:  We still are a bit of a secret in the South Shore.  We are blessed to have consistent five star reviews from people who come.  When people finally come, they say I can’t believe I’ve missed you guys.  We’re expanding our season with a cabaret and fundraiser in March, a show through July and have offerings in October. 

We’re a 501(c)3 company and have some great community sponsors.  As we get more support, we’d love to expand to a six show season where things are constantly happening.  People who come to Plymouth get the highest level of theatre across the United States, but we want our residents and guests to feel like this is also their hometown theater company.

Americana Theatre Company proudly presents Tony award-winning musical Man of La Mancha through July 29 at Spire Center for Performing Arts, 25 ½ Court Street in Plymouth, MA.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for how to support Americana Theatre Company.  Follow Americana Theatre Company on Facebook and Twitter.

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