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‘Steel Magnolias’ will steal your heart: Show opens Friday at the Chief Theater

Alexondrea Thong Vanh, left, and Katelin DeLorenzo rehearse on Wednesday for the upcoming Paul Bunyan Playhouse production of "Steel Magnolias" at the Chief Theater. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Opening at 7:30 Friday, the Paul Bunyan Playhouse will present “Steel Magnolias,” a timeless tale of six strong women facing life’s trials and tribulations, as well as bad hair, together.

Written by Robert Harling as a tribute, “Steel Magnolias” is based on personal experience with his sister’s untimely death. His play closely follows the real-life situations from that life-altering event and the successfully touching performances that followed inspired the award-winning 1989 film of the same name, starring Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Olympia Dukakis, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah and Julia Roberts.

Harling’s story in film and on stage has withstood the test of time beautifully, just as the best friendships will do. Standing strong through the winds of change, good friends can endure the good and bad, the sublime and the mundane, because they stand together. In “Steel Magnolias,” the ever-present southern charm and softly spicy humor woven into the very fiber of these friendships provides a deeply comfortable seat for the audience, from which to watch this story of six supportive and unbreachable friends evolve on stage.

Barber shops and beauty salons have long been known as social centers of our society, home to client confidences shared with the professionals, and other customers too, all while being shampooed or shaved, cut and curled. In this production, the deeply abiding relationships that have sprung up in this hospitable environment are relatable to their audience because the characters are honest with themselves and each other through it all -- laughter, fear, joy, sorrow and, yes -- even gossip and their prayers.

Artfully portraying these quirky bosom buddies is Alexondrea Thong Vanh as Truvy Jones, the romantic beautician with a heart of gold, who is quickly and gratefully assisted in her shop by Alyson Enderle as Annelle, the timid, tenuous, possible wife of an absent, maybe, husband. These two grandly coiffed beauticians, amply armed with multiple cans of Aqua-Net and exceptional hair expertise, ply their trade in Truvy’s Beauty Spot, located in the small Chinquapin Parish of northwest Louisiana, much sought after by local celebrities and the general population, alike. The Beauty Spot Saturday regulars include the clever Alana LaBissoniere as the recently widowed, football fan Clairee, feisty Robbie Mancina as hot- tempered, kind-hearted Ouiser Boudreaux and the flinty yet fragile Katelin DeLorenzo as sweet, suffering Shelby along with Shelby’s bravely terrified mother, M’Lynn, skillfully interpreted by Heather Williams-Williams.

Guiding the creation of this nostalgic piece and its gracious players at the Playhouse is talented guest director, scene and sound designer Mike Ricci, expertly assisted by stage manager Kayla Williams-Schwarze, costume designer Marilyn Hood, lighting designer Peggy Sannerud, props manager Cheryl Winnett, tech director Ryan Zako and general technician Jaxon Anderson.

The Paul Bunyan Playhouse production of “Steel Magnolias” runs at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday with a Sunday, July 22, matinee performance at 2 p.m., continuing Wednesday July 25 with a matinee at 2 p.m., followed by 7:30 evening performances Thursday, July 26, through Saturday, July 28. There is a 15-minute intermission. Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at (218) 751-7270 or online at www.thechieftheater.com/tickets.html. General admission is $25, matinee $20 and student $15. The Playhouse’s summer season will end this year with the grand finale of “Hairspray,” on stage August 1 through August 11.

This production is underwritten by Minnesota Public Radio and Paul Bunyan Communications.

IF YOU GO:

What: “Steel Magnolias”

Where: Chief Theater, 314 Beltrami Ave., downtown Bemidji.

When: Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., 2 p.m. Sunday; 2 p.m. Wednesday, July 25; 7:30 p.m. shows Thursday-Saturday next week.

Tickets: General admission is $25, matinee $20, student $15; (218) 751-7270 or online at www.thechieftheater.com/tickets.html.

Up next: “Hairspray,” Aug. 1.

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