REVIEW: STEEL MAGNOLIAS at Cherry Creek Theatre
by Michael Mulhern
To be honest, this production perplexed me. I have seen several live productions of this play and have watched the movie more times than I can count….needless to say it is one of my favorite dramas. So when I saw that Cherry Creek Theater was mounting this classic especially with this cast, I jumped at the chance to see it. Lines were said, feelings were felt, and yes, I was moved a couple of times, but this show left me wanting more. Let me explain…
Even though I may have a predisposition to this show, I always go into a new production with an open mind. While the chemistry with these ladies was apparent and wonderful to watch, it may have been a little too comfortable. The show just felt a little rushed. For example – when Shelby had her usually memorable foreshadowing seizure it was so hurried that the moment was over before it began. Also the lack of inflection from the actresses made a lot of the sarcastic lines from these Sassy Southerners lost on the audience resulting in few laughs.
I was impressed by Shannon Altner as the newcomer to the town, Annelle. Her character arch was one of the most fascinating parts of the show and her performance was lovely. Devon James was a solid anchor as the grounded and caring Truvy. Unfortunately her lack of varying tone left all of her brassy lines lost on the audience. Erika Mori was good as Shelby and her confrontation with her mother made me take notice. I did adore Suzanne Nepi as the matriarch M’Lynn and her breakdown in Act Two brought me to tears. Unfortunately Martha Harmon Pardee as Clairee was a little one note and had she infused a little more Dixie from Designing Women, then it would have been a memorable performance. Also I tried to enjoy Tracy Shaffer as the iconic Ouiser, but had she made her grumpy moments a little more over the top, then her softer moments would have had more impact.
Director Tara Falk did an excellent job at casting this female driven show. The scene transitions were adorable and the show flowed well. But the pacing was a little too rushed and a lot of emotions and pivotal moments were lost. Whether it was the artistic director, the director, or Covid protocols. I am not sure whose decision it was to have this typical intimate show not being mounted in the black box. Practically sitting in the beauty salon usually works well for this show and emotional impact. With it being in the main theater, we experienced a distance that was a little off-putting. I was very confused by the set by designer Tina Anderson. I did love the attention to detail for the beauty salon, but I was all the extras in the background that could have been edited. The opening of the entire stage with the “Our Town” scaffolding in the background, and the lighting of the backstage was a little distracting and made the audience feel even further away from the action than they actually were. Had they just had the stage totally black, and accentuated the beauty salon, we would have been transported into that setting in such a large theater. Also because many of the actresses had the same melodic tone, a lot of the lines were either confusing or lost. This could have been corrected had there been more micage on each of the actresses. I was in the back row of the audience and even moved at intermission, but had a hard time hearing their individual lines.
Even though this was not my cup of tea, the ensemble was solid. STEEL MAGNOLIAS is playing with Cherry Creek Theatre at the Mizel Center now until October 24th. For tickets or more information, visit https://cherrycreektheatre.org.