Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Steel Magnolias
Stages St. Louis
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's recent review of Woman in Mind

Jilanne Marie Klaus, Taylor Quick, Amy Loui,
and Abigail Isom

Photo by Phillip Hamer
Some shows dare you to look very closely, indeed. In fact, the audience becomes a mirror in the beauty parlor in Robert Harling's Steel Magnolias, into which six women peer, searching for the slightest imperfection. The stories of former Southern belles play out over about two hours and twenty minutes, with intermission, in elegant, funny circles at Stages St. Louis under the gracious, and occasionally grueling, direction of Paige Price at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center.

In 1987 the play debuted Off-Broadway at the WPA Theatre in New York. But it stayed less than three months, before moving west to the Lucille Lortel Theatre. The slice-of-life comedy ran for more than a thousand performances and went on to become a lavish, three-hankie movie in 1989.

The salon owner Truvy (here, the excellent Jilanne Marie Klaus) famously reminds us that "there is no such thing as natural beauty." But don't be fooled: Steel Magnolias is almost entirely focused on the search for inner beauty. This deep introspection is made vastly more powerful by three of the most psychologically adept actresses in town, who play the wise-cracking matriarchs of Chinquapin Parish, Louisiana.

The trio of characters, Clairee, M'Lynn, and Ouiser, don't need a lot of makeover to put on a deeply moving show. Echoes of comedy and drama ring deeper and deeper inside of them as their lives go on. "Outer beauty" is actually a source of a lot of the visual comedy: exceedingly elaborate 1980s hair and wigs by Daniel Paller and an extraordinary richness of Reagan-era fashion by Stages' outstanding costumer Brad Musgrove, along with a lot of groan-worthy Christmas aprons and decor in Act Two. But it's the relationships in this highly polished Stages St. Louis production that will renew your own tenderness by the final curtain.

Wry observational comedy about the South reigns throughout. But kinetic energy hits its peak in a lively moment in Act Two when salon swivel chairs zing left and right like the circuits of a super-computer, as bits of information spark back and forth in a sanctuary without men. Taylor Quick (as Shelby, the bride-to-be) modulates the drama, gently reeling it back in again and again as we follow Shelby from her wedding day to her own conclusion. And somehow this young actress already seems to grasp all the lessons of eternity that Shelby must soon confront.

Stages star Zoe Vander Haar is deliciously acerbic and comically provoked as Ouiser, one of the three matrons of the play. And two of the very best local actresses, Kari Ely and Amy Loui, complete the triumvirate as Clairee and M'Lynn. Each of them seem to be three steps ahead of us as we follow their story to a bittersweet end. Ms. Loui, as Shelby's mother, had me frozen like a deer in the headlights in her famous final scene.

Abigail Isom delivers a rich and humane performance as Annelle, the hairdresser in training who starts out with nothing but finds her way to a personal kind of richness in the end. Elsewhere, in an oddball coincidence, there's a weird moment in Act One during a lot of offstage gunfire when someone mentions Princess Diana, with a loud "bang!" coming right after. It gave me the chills, though of course Diana would die ten years later, after a car crash. Leave it in, though, it's so weird.

In the end we get another stunning performance from Ms. Loui in a show that also, lovingly, tells us how to talk about our friends behind their backs. Without inserting the long blade shears in the process.

Steel Magnolias runs through June 30, 2024, at Stages St. Louis, Kirkwood Performing Arts Center, 210 E. Monroe Avenue, St. Louis, For tickets and information, please visit

Truvy: Jilanne Marie Klaus*
Annelle: Abigail Isom*
Clairee: Kari Ely*
Shelby: Tailor Quick*
M'Lynn: Amy Loui*
Ouiser: Zoe Vonder Haar*
Radio DJ: Kurt Deutsch

Standbys and Understudies:
For Truvy: Lari White*
For Annelle: Lexy Witcher
For Clairee & Ouiser: Meme Wolff*
For Shelby: Abigail Isom*
For M'Lynn: Jilanne Marie Klaus*

Production Staff:
Director: Paige Price
Scenic Designer: Kate Rance
Costume Designer: Brad Musgrove
Lighting Designer: Sean M. Savoie
Sound Designer: Nevin Steinberg
Wig & Hair Designer: Daniel Paller
Production Stage Manager: Monica Dickhens
Artistic General Manager: Alicia Scott-Aune
Production Manager: Kimberly Klearman Petersen
Marketing Director: Michael Adkins
Company Manger: Elizabeth Dunn
Dialect Coach: Pamela Reckamp
Assistant Stage Managers: Gus Kickham, Sydney Bell
Executive Producer: Andrew Kuhlman
Artistic Director: Gayle Holsman Seay

* Denotes Member, Actors' Equity Association