Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Just about everything came together terrifically in this production, including the ideal set design of a hair salon, provided by Jessie Lizotte. All of the play's great lines came through with snap and vigor in the perfect small-town atmosphere for the show.
The cast was marvelous, functioning as a true ensemble while each actress also had a chance to shine individually. Raissa Katona Bennett was warm and funny as Truvy, presenting her own fresh take on this character. She Truvy is the true center of the show, with all of the other characters seeming to revolve around her. Rachel Rival was a lovely Annelle, being an initial source of mystery, then becoming the group's unlikely spiritual guide.
The part of Clairee has some of the sharpest lines in the script and Cynthia Hannah was just glorious in the role. Having seen Hannah do splendid work in Music Theatre of Connecticut's productions of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, I found her to be just as fine in Steel Magnolias, wringing all the humor out of her dialogue. As the cranky and disagreeable Ouiser, Kirsti Carnahan was almost cast against type, but came through strongly, winning a great deal of laughter in just about every scene.
Andrea Lynn Green was a luminous Maggie in the earlier Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and she was alternately touching and vibrant here in the role of Shelby. This character is the most fragile of all the women onstage and Green brought that quality out perfectly, as well as shining brightly in all of her scenes. One must truly care about Shelby for the show to fully work, and Green was just irresistible.
In a company of performers who all worked on the same high level, Kaia Monroe stood out just a bit in the part of M'Lynn, Shelby's concerned mother. Initially appearing as the mother of the bride in the first scene, wearing a beautifully appropriate outfit (the outstanding costume design was provided by Diane Vanderkroef), Monroe brought a delicate combination of worriment for her daughter, as well as ultimately wanting her to live her life to the fullest. Monroe's heartbreaking outburst in the final scene was breathtaking, growing slowly and organically out of the character.
No doubt director Hill helped elicit all of these superlative performances, and provided great pacing for the show. The lighting design by RJ Romeo was expert, illuminating the setting delightfully, with the intimacy of the theater helping to draw the audience in.
This Steel Magnolias was a real winner, the only downside being that I wasn't able to get to the production until its final weekend. Nonetheless, it was yet another impressive staging at Music Theatre of Connecticut, following their stunning production of Ragtime, which opened the current season.
Steel Magnolias rain November 8-24, 2019, at Music Theatre of Connecticut, 509 Westport Avenue, Norwalk CT. For information and tickets for future productions, please visit www.musictheatreofct.com.