Steel Magnolias cast reflects on film characters, relationships

After the highly successful film adaptation of Steel Magnolias was released in 1989, many actresses performing in the play version have been required to take on a challenging task. With a film that featured a cast of veteran performers like Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine and Dolly Parton, as well as a fresh-faced Julia Roberts, it can be difficult for others to look past these performances and for actresses to create a character of their own. However, the cast members at the Omaha Community Playhouse say they are working to avoid the identical character trap. Brenda Ehrhart, who is playing the Sally Field role of M’Lynn, remembered seeing the film when it was first released, and she also saw OCP’s first production of the play. She carries memories from both versions; however, Director Amy Lane has helped her develop a fresh interpretation of the role.

“[She] is doing an amazing job as our director in helping us to each explore our characters and their lives prior to where the show takes us,” Ehrhart said. “She has also worked with us to discover the background and interpersonal relationships of the characters. At this point in the creative process, the work Amy is doing with us is where I am gaining most of the character insight and development for M’Lynn.” Katie Kresha, who is playing M’Lynn’s daughter and the Julia Roberts role of Shelby, noted that although she is trying to make the character her own, she thinks she should not completely ignore Roberts’ performance.

“If you try to fight it for the sake of being different, you can alienate your audience,” Kresha said. “I think what makes Julia Roberts' performance as Shelby so memorable is revealed in that huge, beautiful smile that shines through joyous experiences, heartache, fear and pain. Her beauty isn't just that she is Julia Roberts; it's the inner and outer strength of character she embodies as Shelby throughout her journey and the hope that she gives to those around her.”

Jennifer McGill, who plays Annelle, noted that it is impossible not to be influenced by Daryl Hannah’s performance in the film, but she is using the script, Lane’s direction and her own personal experiences to develop her character. McGill has found connections with not only Annelle but also other characters in the play.

“I relate so well to the mother-daughter relationship between M'Lynn and Shelby,” McGill said. “I was diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes at the age of 7. My mother wants me to be strong and follow my dreams, but she is still very protective of me because of what I've been through with diabetes, just like M'Lynn is with Shelby.”

It is these types of relationships in the show that make it so well-loved, Connie Lee, who plays the Dolly Parton role of Truvy, noted.

“I love the relationships in the play and the bonds these women have formed,” Lee said. “I can relate to them all … I treasure the women in my life, family members and the long-term friends who have become family. Getting together for girl time is absolutely necessary. It's like oxygen. Gotta have it!”

Don’t miss Steel Magnolias in the Howard and Rhonda Hawks Mainstage Theatre, April 15-May 8, Wednesday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $35 for adults and $21 students. For groups of 15 or more, adult tickets are $23 and student tickets are $15. To purchase tickets or for more information, call (402) 553-0800, visit the Box Office or click here.

Article by Maria Becvar

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