Chattanooga Now Pull up a blow dryer for 'Steel Magnolias' in Crossville

Chattanooga Now Pull up a blow dryer for 'Steel Magnolias' in Crossville

January 17th, 2013 by Clint Cooper in Chattanooga Now - Art

Weslie Webster, Patty Payne and Carol Irvin portray M'lynn, Ouiser and Clairee, respectively, in the 2013 Cumberland County Playhouse season opener, "Steel Magnolias."

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.


What: "Steel Magnolias"

When: Saturday, Jan. 19, through Friday, March 29

Where: Cumberland County Playhouse, 221 Tennessee Ave., Crossville, Tenn.

Admission: $12-$24

Phone: 931-484-5000



Other productions this season:

Feb. 1-24: "Footloose"

March 8-May 3: "Les Miserables"

April 5-May 17: "The Miracle Worker"

April 25-27: "Broadway Our Way"

May 10-July 14: "9 to 5: The Musical"

May 24-Aug. 2: "Smoke on the Mountain"

June 14-Aug. 30: "The King and I"

July 11-Sept. 27: "Man of La Mancha"

Aug. 8-Oct. 18: "Ring of Fire"

Sept. 6-Nov. 3: "To Kill a Mockingbird"

Oct. 11-Nov. 16: "Ragtime"

Oct. 24-Dec. 22: "A Sanders Family Christmas"

Nov. 8-Dec. 20: "Suite Surrender"

Nov. 23-Dec. 21: "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever"

While "Steel Magnolias" - opening Saturday, Jan. 19, at the Cumberland County Playhouse - is set at the fictional Truvy's beauty salon in Natchitoches, La., it rings so true it could be set at the actual Cheryl's Curl Up & Dye in Crossville.

"It never feels false when an actor is delivering the line," says John Fionte, marketing director for the theater. "[Playwright Robert Harling] has an amazing talent for capturing an authentic kind of language."

The comedy/drama, which features the goings-on of six women as they come in and out of the beauty shop, will continue through Friday, March 29.

Fionte says he first saw the production in 1988 when it moved to the Lucille Lortel Theatre, an off-Broadway venue in New York City.

"I was blown away by the show," he says. "It's a great script. It was wonderfully acted."

The play went on to spawn two movies, a television pilot and a Broadway production in 2005.

Fionte later worked with Harling on "Evening Star," the movie sequel to the Academy Award-winning "Terms of Endearment."

"When he writes a script," he says, "it's so terrific to deliver or work with his dialogue. It resonates so much with actors and audience."

The play is an ensemble work, with all six characters - beauty shop owner Truvy, grouchy widow Ouiser, wisecracking widow Clairee, bride-to-be Shelby, Shelby's mother, M'Lynn, and new employee Annelle - enjoying the spotlight.

"No character outshines any other character," says Fionte. "But not only is it wonderfully balanced, but those relationships are richly and deeply drawn. You get a sense of who they are."

A playwright can't always cover everybody's back story, he says, but Harling's script allows them to share a lot of history with each other.

Patty Payne, Carol Irvin and Weslie Webster return to the play from its last time on the Crossville stage in the mid-2000s. Webster reprises her role as M'Lynn, while Payne switches from Truvy to Ouiser.

Newcomer Lauren Marshall portrays Truvy, while Anna Baker, most recently in "Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge" and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," is Annelle, and Lindy Pendzick, who has played leads in "The Sound of Music" and "Little Shop of Horrors," is Shelby.

Contact Clint Cooper at or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at