One of the most beloved movies of the past 30 years is Steel Magnolias, the story of six strong women who come together to celebrate life and mourn loss. It makes audiences laugh, cheer and cry.
Now, Robert Harling's play of the same name, on which the movie was based, is coming to the Brazos Valley in a new production by Navasota Theatre Alliance and it promises to be an amazing experience with an outstanding cast directed by the inimitable Earlene Rainey.
Rainey said, "I am thoroughly enjoying directing this play. This script offers these six actresses so much opportunity! It has many great comedic lines which require perfect timing, but it also offers wonderful moments of real emoting on stage.
"I have held additional training workshops on both comedy and authentic stage emotions in our rehearsal schedule to address both ends of the spectrum." Rainey said.
"I also like the faith aspect of this play. It cements the heart of this play for me. Each character at some time in the play deals with her faith in her own unique way, within her own unique set of circumstances," Rainey said. "This aspect of the play offers some of the comedic lines, as well as the pathos.
"But I find that real also. I think many people are tempted to laugh off faith until they have a life experience which draws them into a faith-based relationship. They just don't understand faith until then.
"The playwright wrote this play while dealing with his own grief. I feel certain he knew most of us question faith at some time in our lives. So again, another 'real' aspect of the human journey."
Harling, an Alabama native, completed his law degree at Tulane University, but never took the bar exam. Instead, he headed to New York to become an actor. In 1985, Harling lost his younger sister Susan to complications from diabetes.
He turned that loss into a short story and then a play that opened off-Broadway in 1987. Two years later, Harling wrote the screenplay for the movie starring Sally Field, Olympia Dukakis, Julia Roberts, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton and Daryl Hannah.
The cast of Navasota's production may not be big-time movie stars, but no doubt they will bring their characters to amazing life. The play stars Jessica McHale as Truvy, Cydney Pennison as Annelle, Key Sanders as Clairee, Jessica Walker as Shelby, Dawn Jourdan as M'Lynn, and Janice Kerlee as Ouiser.
Steel Magnolias opens Friday and runs Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. through Sept. 30. Matinees will be at 2 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 1. There will be a special Thursday performance at 7 p.m. on Sept. 28 and an added Saturday matinee on Sept. 30. Tickets are $7 to $14 and are available by calling 936-825-3195 and online at navasotatheatre.org.
One of the most anticipated events during each production is the dinner theater, which will be at 5:45 p.m. Sept. 23 in the theater lobby. Cost of the catered meal is $25, which includes a ticket to that evening's performance. Advance tickets are required.
Navasota Theatre Alliance productions are presented at the Sunny Furman Theatre, 104 W. Washington Ave. in downtown Navasota. If you never have been to a production there, you are in for a treat. The seats are comfortable, the people are friendly and the traverse stage -- with the audience sitting on both sides of the stage -- creates an intimate setting unlike any other theater in the area.
Steel Magnolias has been presented by other area theaters in recent years, but don't let that stop you from attending Navasota's version.
Navasota Theatre Alliance Board President Sheryl Brown said, "Plays with comedic elements, heartwarming stories -- especially those based on a popular movie or television series, and colorful characters that our patrons can relate -- are some of factors that we consider when selecting a title. Steel Magnolias had not been performed locally in [a few years], and we felt we had both the ability to attract amazing talent and secure the direction needed to make it a quality, entertaining production that would be unique from other theaters. Navasota Theatre had so many actresses turn out for auditions, director Earlene Rainey could have cast the play three times over."
Rainey said, "Of course, the story line and script is the same for all live theater, but does somewhat vary from the movie. As far as any play goes, every production will be different from all others you might have seen before at another theater.
"The heart and vision of the director, the skill level and cast mix, the stage layout, and other factors will always combine to make every production of every theatre unique."
Rainey, a veteran of numerous productions at Navasota Theatre Alliance, said, "I believe this production of Steel Magnolias will be one of our finest. Whether or not you have seen Steel Magnolias once, or 22 times, I urge you to come see this one. The cast is extraordinary. Our intimate theatre setting draws you into the beauty shop and the drama and comedy of the story in such a unique way!
"For anyone who has never been to the Navasota Theatre, the stage is in the middle of the two sets of seats. It is called a modified arena stage."
She said, "We have real running water in our sink. Hair is really washed and curled. How fun to watch! You might even be tempted to make your own beauty appointment!"
Asked why the play is so popular, Rainey said, "Interestingly, although completely set in a beauty shop, this play is popular with men as well as women. I believe the reason why is because it is 'real.'
"The characters are authentic and easy to relate to. These six multi-generational women exhibit courage and friendship as they 'do life together.' They support each other in the good, and the bad times. Each character is clearly on her own life journey, but are fortunate to have each other to share the journey."
As noted, Rainey has directed many shows, some well-known, others not so much. "Actually, I enjoy directing both the little or unknown, as well as the well-known," she said,
"I only direct shows which offer a story that I feel needs to be told. So I enjoy bringing a new play to audiences, but I also love taking a well-known play and making it fresh and new. Done well, an audience that may be familiar with the play or movie, will hopefully have an experience which gives them a new appreciation for a great story.
"I feel we have created that in Steel Magnolias. This cast and crew love this story and have been devoted to excellence from the beginning of our time together. I look forward to sharing it with our audiences."
Rainey said, "Probably any child over the age of 10 can understand the story line and most of the humor and the drama. Parents should just use their discretion as to the child's maturity level in dealing with the discussion of death in the play."
The Brazos Valley will get to tour the world without leaving home this season. Patrons will travel to New York's Central Park and Africa, India and even the North Pole. We will party like it is the 1950s and 1960s and we will journey to Willy Wonka's beloved chocolate factory. And that is just a start.
TROUPE is calling its 24th year A Season of Pure Imagination. And what a season it will be.
It would be safe to say every show during the 2017-18 year will be a season highlight, but two of the productions deserve special mention.
Next summer, TROUPE will present Madagascar, A Musical Adventure jr., a new musical based on the popular series of animated DreamWorks feature films.
The musical follows four denizens of New York's Central Park Zoo: best friends Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo. They have lived their entire lives in the zoo, but escape to go on an adventure. Suddenly they find themselves in a new home in Africa. They work to get back to New York, seeking the help of a muster of penguins (who would star in their own Madagascar movie).
Madagascar jr. is so new that the script won't even be released until Oct. 1. It looks to be a worthy follow up to this summer's smash production of Disney's The Lion King jr.
Madagascar, A Musical Adventure jr. will be presented July 26-29.
A second special highlight of the TROUPE season will be Willy Wonka jr., to be presented May 4-6 and May 11-13. The musical is based on Roald Dahl's beloved book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the equally beloved 1971 movie, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
Leslie Bricusse, who, with Anthony Newley, wrote the music for the movie expanded on that music for the stage musical. Among the incredible songs are Pure Imagination and The Candy Man.
The musical revolves around Charlie Bucket, a young boy whose family struggles financially. Charlie wins a "golden ticket" to tour the chocolate factory. In a series of vignettes that teach a range of moral virtues, the other four ticket winners on the tour are subjected to a number of mishaps. Only Charlie makes it to the end of the tour, where Willy Wonka declares him to be the new boss of the chocolate factory.
Willy Wonka jr. looks to be a lot of fun.
And we can't forget The Jungle Book, set for Jan. 26-29 and Feb. 2-3. While living with his family in a cottage new Brattleboro, Vermont, Kipling wrote a series of short stories about "man-cub" Mowgli, who his raised by wolves in the jungles of India -- each one packed full of moral lessons. The stories were combined into The Jungle Book, published in 1894.
The Jungle Book has had several film adaptations, but none more popular than the 1967 Disney animation movie, the last one in which Walt Disney played a major production role. It featured the voices of Sebastian Cabot, George Sander, Louis Prima and Phil Harris. The score featured seven original songs, one by Terry Gilkyson and six by the brothers Sherman -- Richard M. and Robert B.
There is so much more on the TROUPE season, including:
• Lights, camera, ... Action!, Oct. 20-22 -- An original musical revue saluting Hollywood and cinema. Some of the best TROUPE productions over the years have revues of songs based on a common theme. This one, no doubt, will follow in their footsteps.
• Chaos at the North Pole, Dec. 1-3 and Dec. 8-9 -- A new play by costumer Shelby Rowan, who crafted the amazing costumes for Disney's The Lion King jr. in July. Rowan recalls the day her young grandson, then an active member of TROUPE, came home and said the company needed her sewing talents. Little did she know it would turn into a years-long position designing and creating costumes for TROUPE productions.
M.A. Sterling, the incredibly talented artistic/managing director of TROUPE, said, "I promised our lead costumer, Shelby Rowan, that I would find some great shows with animals involved. After our production of Disney's The Lion King jr. this summer, it was the very least I could do!"
• I'll Be Home for Christmas, Dec. 15-16 -- For years, every Christmas, TROUPErs gather on stage in a simulation of Sterling's home. There they mix and mingle and sing popular holiday songs. It always is a fun gathering.
• At the Hop, date to be announced -- Like all arts organizations, Brazos Valley TROUPE needs money to produce the fantastic productions. Why not raise that money and have fun at the same time? A one-night '50s and '60s romp and special fundraiser will do just that.
• Nooses Off, March 2-4 and March 8-9 -- Noises Off is one of the funniest plays within a play, about producing a play -- and nothing goes right. Nooses Off by Don Zolidisis is a hilarious spoof of that play. Can't wait to see it.
In addition to this already incredible list, TROUPE will have two recurring productions scheduled throughout the 2017-2018 season. Dates to be announced:
• Laugh Out Loud! -- TROUPE's improv/sketch comedy show featuring its talented resident improv team, the Oxymorons, the kings and queens of clean-cut comedy.
• Clue-less!!! -- Back by popular demand, this original TROUPE work based on the popular board game lets the audience solve the crime right along with the actors.
Sterling said, "As always, we strive for two things: family-friendly fare and artistic variety. We think that we have that with this lineup.
He said, "One of our themes, production-wise, is 'having families in our audience seeing families on stage.' Contrary to what some have tried to have our community believe, we are not just a kids' theater. We are full-service with an outstanding award-winning program for the youth of our community, yes! We are more than that, however. While we truly focus on our kids, we are family-oriented. Families are made up of kid and adults, young and old. Therefore, we want to be fully immersed into what family looks like and what family is.
For more information on the new season, go to bvtroupe.com.
• Friday -- Babe, part of the 2017 Summer Film Series at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, games and free refreshments starting at 7 p.m. (Bush41.org)
• Sept. 22 and 23 -- Brazos Bluebonnet Guild's judged quilt show, Brazos Center, vendors, scissor sharpening, raffle baskets. $5. (BBOG.org)
• Every Sunday -- Open mics and poetry slams sponsored by Mic Check Poetry, 8:30 p.m. Revolution Café in Downtown Bryan, (miccheckpoetry.com)
• Items for Arts Watch should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Deadline is noon Tuesday before the weekend you want it to run.