The patrons of a small-town beauty salon share tears of heartache and laughter amid whiffs of hairspray in “Steel Magnolias” and that mix is what director Kelly MacGregor hopes to bring out in the Waco Civic Theatre production that opens on Friday.
“It’s a play I’ve always loved. It’s so memorable. We all cry and interrupt ourselves by laughing our guts out,” she said.
MacGregor, who performed in WCT productions of “Newsies,” “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sweeney Todd,” met “Steel Magnolias” playwright Robert Harling in Dallas last October and asked him what he considered a successful production. It wasn’t both types of tears, but close: “He said when people are moved and they get it,” she recalled.
Harling’s 1987 play drew on his childhood in a small Louisiana town with its story of six women connected in part by friendships nurtured at a beauty parlor. There’s M’Lynn (Janie Groth) and her diabetic daughter Shelby (Katherine Randolph); Truvy, owner of Truvy’s Beauty Shop (Tredessa Thomas); newcomer to town Annelle (Madison Mattoon); and shop customers the cantankerous Ouiser (Laura Meier-Marx) and Clairee (Cathy Hawes), the wealthy widow of a former mayor.
The play covers a three-year span that includes Shelby’s wedding, Truvy’s serial boyfriends and Annelle’s personality changes. “That beauty shop is their place to commune,” said MacGregor.
While the play is relatively straightforward in its plotting, navigating character interactions and the story’s emotional ups-and-downs were part of the director’s challenges. “The characters have such distinctive personalities that I wondered during casting if these women can really jell together,” she said. Rehearsals showed that they could, with MacGregor reminding her cast to concentrate on the play and the rest would follow. “The play is the goal, then the emotions come through,” she said.
Advance ticket sales have been strong and MacGregor said those expecting to laugh and cry likely will get their chance. “You’ll feel the feels,” she said.