“Steel Magnolias” at Boca Raton’s Wick Theatre has enough sass and heartache to be called a winner.
Directed by Norb Joerder, the estrogen-soaked, 1980s serio-comedy features a cast long on warmth. Joerder holds the reins tightly, steering the show away from sob-fest softness and toward tart and taut territory.
For those people who've never seen the 1989 megahit movie version with Julia Roberts, Dolly Parton, Sally Field, Olympia Dukakis, Shirley MacLaine and Daryl Hannah chewing up the scenery, “Steel Magnolias” centers on a beauty shop in a small parish in Louisiana. The stage version (which first appeared off-Broadway in 1987 and had a revival in 2005) eschews the male roles that were added to fill out the film and takes place solely in the beauty parlor.
Proprietor Truvy (Patti Eyler) is hiring a new hairstylist, Annelle (Linda Farmer), before a big day: the wedding of Shelby (Alison McCartan). Shelby's mother, M'Lynn (Aaron Bower), worries about her daughter's fragile health. The tight circle of friends includes spitfire seniors Clairee (Sally Bondi) and Ouiser (Robin Proett Olson).
As the story progresses, we see bonds build and dreams die among this diverse group of women. “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion,” says Truvi, summing up the mood and thrust of “Steel Magnolias.”
Robert Harling’s script looks and sounds great on Sean McClelland’s set, which feels right, as if the salon grew out from the attached house bit by bit, in stages over the years.
But here’s the thing: In order for this brand of smart Southern-fried humor to work, it has to come off as effortless. Too often, with some of the scenes and some of the actors, we are all too aware of the machinations. The verbal volley doesn’t always flow, and two or three times the actors seem to be reading lines rather than feeling them.
Balancing out those moments are some stretches in which everything goes smoothly, with the actors sweetening the sentimentality just right. At a little over two hours with a 15-minute intermission, that is no easy feat. Things could get awfully swampy while watching six women quip, cry and then quip again in a beauty parlor. And each actor has to ramp it up, and ramp it up good, for her character’s moment in the spotlight.
No one wants wilted wallflowers in “Steel Magnolias.”
IF YOU GO:
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. matinees Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays through April 20.
Where: The Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton
Contact: 561-995-2333 or TheWick.org.