Thursday, April 18, 2024
EntertainmentLocalSan FranciscoTheatre

Now playing: Steel Magnolias in the Bay Area

One of my favorite movies is Steel Magnolias. With its all-star cast of Julia Roberts, Shirley MacLaine and Dolly Parton and the fact the movie incorporates almost every holiday, you can watch this movie any time of the year.

But watch it with tissues. You’ll need them.

Many of you might not know that it was first an Off-Broadway play. The writer of the play and movie, Robert Harling, based this on true incidents that occurred with his sister.

For using the truth as a basis of the story, a sense of realness is always evident and that feeling also comes through with the current TheatreWorks staging.

Steel Magnolias, plays in the San Francisco Bay Area at Mountain View Center for the Performing  Arts through July 3, instantly immerses its audience into the time period as soon as they enter the theatre. Scenic Designer Andrea Bechert has created a world that just feels like it a 1980s/90s Southern beauty parlor. The pictures on the wall, the hair stations – they all make you feel as if you are transported back in time. Further, Beckert goes a step further by adding a background behind the main set that reminds us constantly of magnolias.

Now the mood is set for an ensemble piece of acting between six amazing actors, who find ways to make their characters stand out but still be part of a strong ensemble.

Photos: Kevin Berne

The focus of all is Jasmine Milan WIlliams as Shelby, the character who plays the fictionalized version of writer Harling’s sister. She also has to fill the shoes of the movie version played by Julia Roberts, who was Oscar nominated for the role.

Williams makes the character her own. She is loving, sweet and caring and is able to relate to the mostly older woman of the salon. For this show to work, you have to like this character and WIlliams achieves this in spades.

While all of the cast is wonderful, I would like to also single out Lisa Strum as Truvy who takes on the Dolly Parton role and once again, memories of Parton are forgotten as she turns the part into her role and not a re-enactment.

Alexandra Lee’s role though is the only missed opportunity and not really her fault. The play all takes place in the beauty parlor with just these women – but the movie was opened up to include more characters and different settings. The Annelle character seems underdeveloped on the stage and more fleshed out in the movie.

Director Elizabeth Carter also keeps things flowing on stage, using every inch of it. Sometimes though, I might not have agreed with her blocking. In particular there’s a scene towards the end between Annelle and M’Lynn that seems unnatural to have them move to the stage’s apron and look into the audience instead of each other.

All-in-all, this will not make me forget the movie Steel Magnolias. But it doesn’t try to. It creates its own world, brings us into it and creates characters for us to like and not because they were once played by big movie starts.

Check it out and get tickets at

Kevin M. Thomas

Kevin M. Thomas, or @ReelKev, is an arts blogger and entertainment reporter. In addition to his own website, and ReelKev YouTube channel, Kevin used to be the LGBT arts writer for and contributes to as well as a semi-regular on San Francisco's cable TV show, "10 Percent."

Kevin M. Thomas has 156 posts and counting. See all posts by Kevin M. Thomas

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