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Arts and Entertainment

Branson's Historic Owen Theatre Hosts Stage Version of "Steel Magnolias"

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(Poster design courtesy Branson Regional Arts Council)
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The Branson Regional Arts Council launches their 7th theatrical production of the year with "Steel Magnolias," opening August 29th at the Historic Owen Theatre, 205 S. Commercial Street in downtown Branson.  According to BRAC Executive Director Jim Barber, “We are so thrilled with the response that we are getting already—tickets are selling quite well.  And we really love the fact that Springfield is getting behind what we’re doing down in Branson.  We had several Springfield actors involved in many of our productions recently.”

“Steel Magnolias” is familiar to most people through the 1989 film version with Sally Field, Julia Roberts and Dolly Parton.  Director Lloyd Alexander-Holt discussed some of the differences between it and Robert Harling’s 1987 stage play. “I think the biggest difference between the film and the stage version is that everything on the stage happens at Truvy’s Beauty Salon.”  It’s the place in Chinquapin, Louisiana where all the women who are “anybody” come to have their hair done and to socialize.  Alexander-Holt reminded us that Harling wrote the screen adaptation as well, and was “very involved with the transition from stage to screen. So much of the dialogue is the exact same. So what you’re going to hear is what you hear when you watch the film.” The stage cast consists exclusively of the six women—no husbands, boyfriends, sons or dogs are seen as they are in the movie version.  “It’s the same storyline, the tragedy that happens at the end, and all the beauty that unfolds throughout the narrative. It all happens within a contained set—one set.

The script is filled with hilarious repartee, but the play (and movie) moves toward tragedy when the spunky Shelby--a diabetic—undergoes a risky pregnancy and ultimately forfeits her life.  Playwright Robert Harling had a specific reason for creating this story: he wanted to preserve the memory of his sister. “The character of Shelby is written as a tribute to (Harling’s) sister, who did suffer from diabetes, and lost her life after she did sacrifice that for her son.  So the number one goal that he had when he sat down—and in ten days he penned this show, from start to finish; he spent his life behind that typewriter for about a week and a half—his number one goal was that that he didn’t want his sister to be forgotten. And I think he did a wonderful job in that tribute.

“One of the things that draws people to this story is that you can identify at some level with some of these characters—everybody has these ‘steel magnolias’ in their life. But to quote Truvy’s line, it’s one of my favorite lines, ‘Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.’ That’s what you’ll experience when you come and see this wonderful production.”

Lloyd Alexander-Holt said he feels very “fortunate” in casting this show. “We’ve got some faces that people will recognize from the Historic Owen Theatre stage, and we’ve got some new faces with this one.”  The cast features Amy Miller (one of the company’s new actors this year, playingTruvy Jones), Kristen Dasto (Annelie Dupuy-Desoto), Julie Musser (Claire Belcher), Kellsey Bradley (Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie), Mindy Law (M’Lynn Eatenton) and Roz Slavik (Ouiser Boudreaux).

“Steel Magnolias” will run for six performances August 29 thru September 1st: Thursday through Sunday all at 7:00pm, with additional Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00.  I asked director Lloyd Alexander-Holt how well the cast will handle that “two-a-day” schedule on the weekend, and he acknowledged that “this show takes a lot out of them emotionally, but they are the real deal. Every time I see them onstage, they inspire me. They’re always willing to be vulnerable and always willing to give out of that honesty, that portrayal. It’s never phoned in.  They walk out exhausted, but they’re very, very happy.”

Branson Regional Arts Council, since taking on regular theatrical productions at the Owen Theatre, has been steadily increasing the number of shows they present each season. BRAC Executive Director Jim Barber noted, “This season we are doing ten productions. In the past, Tri-Lakes Community Theatre had been around for almost 40 years, and they maybe did from one to four productions, and they were always in the ‘off-season,’ and wherever they could find a theater. So when the Branson Regional Arts Council was able to move into the Historic Owen Theatre a year and a half ago, we decided that we wanted to make it a full-time, year-round community theater. So we did nine productions last year, ten productions this year… and we’re going to have eleven productions next year, if you can believe that! And we can only do it because we have such a great staff of professionals.  They’re volunteer, a lot of them, but they are very professional in their ethics and their quality, and the time that they put into it—our directors, producers, choreographers, actors, everyone. Even if they’re brand-new, we call them professional.  It’s something Branson has needed as a community.  Springfield has supported the arts, and theater like this, for many, many years, and Springfield has really supported us as well. The Springfield (Regional) Arts Council, Springfield Little Theatre, they’ve all gotten behind many of the productions that we’re doing and are very supportive. And we appreciate that.”

The Owen was built around 1936, and is in fact one of Branson’s oldest buildings. Jim Barber says one of BRAC’s goals is to restore it back to its original condition “but keep it as a modern performing facility. We’re going to be putting in an art gallery in the front, in a small area that was originally an art gallery.”

For tickets to “Steel Magnolias,” visit www.BransonArts.org/tix, or call the Historic Owen Theatre Box Office at (417) 336-4255. Tickets are $9.95 (youth price) and $14.95.