Amy Arnold, a cast member in the Players Guild at Sugar Hill’s production of “Steel Magnolias,” is originally from Natchitoches, Louisiana — which just so happens to be the hometown of the stage play’s author, Robert Harling, who also adapted his work into a film released in 1989.
“I remember when ‘Steel Magnolias’ was being filmed in Natchitoches and how much excitement there was that Dolly Parton was in town,” Arnold said. “I did not realize at the time that this was based on a true story that took place in my hometown.”
Harling wrote “Steel Magnolias” as a tribute to his late sister, Susan, who died from complications of type 1 diabetes, leaving behind her 2-year-old son. In an interview with “Country Living,” Harling said he was afraid her son would never know who his mother was.
“All I wanted to do was have somebody remember her,” Harling said.
Set in a beauty salon in a fictional Louisiana town in the early 1980s, “Steel Magnolias” is a comedy-drama about the bond shared by six southern women as they experience the trials and triumphs of life.
Arnold, who plays M’Lynn in the Players Guild’s production, spent two weeks in June visiting her hometown and researching the story behind the play.
“It was such a humbling experience to revisit the original Harling house and see all of the filming locations from the movie,” she said. “I even paid tribute to the original steel magnolias, Margaret and Susan Harling, who are buried nearby. Because of my personal connection to the play, I feel a tremendous responsibility to portray M’Lynn as the strong, Southern woman that she actually was.”
“Steel Magnolias” is the opening production in the Players Guild at Sugar Hill’s 10th anniversary season.
‘When planning this season of classics and hope, I considered so many shows, but ‘Steel Magnolias’ was one that I kept coming back to,” said Justin Walker, artistic director for the Players Guild. “This tale of love, family and friendship among women is powerful, charming and universal. I grew up regularly watching the film as it was a favorite of my mother’s, so I’m sure there was also a bit of nostalgia that influenced my selection of the piece.”
The play’s director, Christine Anderson Moore Trent, has a personal connection to the play’s storyline.
“‘Steel Magnolias’ has always been on my bucket list of plays to direct,” she said. “Not only can I relate to the storyline as a mother and a daughter, but both of my uncles had juvenile diabetes. It basically ruled their lives. I feel like this is an opportunity to give them a voice even though they are no longer with us.”
Trent goes on to call the six performers portraying the women of “Steel Magnolias” a “dream cast” — in addition to Arnold as M’Lynn, Emily Sterner plays Shelby, Jamie Goss plays Truvy, Audrey Boozer appears as Annelle, Terri Miller portrays Clairee and Ane Mulligan — the Players Guild’s board chair and managing director — plays Ouiser.
“I have been very emotional at rehearsals as I consider the level of talent mixed with the raw vulnerability from the cast,” Trent said. “Audiences will need to bring their hankies for the emotional journey this cast will take them on. As the character Truvy says in the play, ‘Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.'”
The Players Guild’s production of “Steel Magnolias” opens Friday, Sept. 1, and runs through Sunday, Sept. 10, at the Eagle Theatre at 5029 W. Broad St. in downtown Sugar Hill. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets start at $23 with discounts available for seniors and students. Click here to purchase tickets.
The Players Guild at Sugar Hill’s 10th anniversary season also includes “It’s a Wonderful Life” set for November, “The Diary of Anne Frank” in February 2024 and “The Wedding Singer” in April 2024.
FEATURED PHOTO: The cast of the Players Guild at Sugar Hill’s production of “Steel Magnolias.” Photo by shotbykgrace.