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The Before and After Story of Steel Magnolias

If you have ever seen Steel Magnolias the movie, starring Sally Field, Julia Roberts and Shirley MaClaine, then it may surprise you to know that there is a before and an after to the story. Steel Magnolias started as an Off-Broadway play in 1987 and was then made into a movie in 1989. Since then, it has been revived on Broadway, starting in 2005, with a few changes.

Besides some uproarious dialogue and some heartfelt moments, Steel Magnolias is considered unique because of its one set production and its strong female cast–not to mention the fact that there are no male actors in the play. (All male characters are only spoken of in dialogue.) The play is similar to the movie and is a comedy drama (written by Robert Harling) set in a beauty parlor. The play follows the major characters Shelby, Truvy, Clairee, Ouiser, Annelle and M’Lynn.

In 2005, the play premiered at the Lyceum Theatre and garnered some very positive reviews. Since then, the production has been touring, not only in the United States, but even internationally, in Tokyo, and in Stockholm. Obviously, this is a human interest story that appeals to people of all ages, all cultures and all sensibilities. The play was written by playwright Harling as a means to cope with his own sister’s death. Susan Harling was a diabetic (as is the play’s central character) and did die from complications of the condition. Harling was advised to write about his feelings as a means to cope. He wrote it as a short story and then eventually turned the story into a play. It was Hartling’s brilliant idea to make the play just as funny as it was heartbreaking–just like real life.

To see the play today still remains a wonderful live theatre experience, all the more so when you take these identities off screen and put them on a small set. This Louisiana-based play will leave you breathless, as you observe firsthand the meaning of “steel magnolias.” Don’t you remember what that meaning is? Women who are as delicate as magnolias but as tough as steel.

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