Theater Talk: Theatre Three’s season blooms with ‘Steel Magnolias’

Theater Talk: Theatre Three’s season blooms with ‘Steel Magnolias’

Clockwise from back row left, Ginger Dalton, Stephanie Moreau, Christine N. Boehm, Marci Bing, Linda May and Michelle LaBozzetta. Photo by Steven Uihlein/Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Tara Mae

“Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”

This famous line from Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias embodies the ethos of the comedy-drama, which is Theatre Three’s next Mainstage production, opening on April 9.

Spanning three years in the lives of a group of Southern women, the play explores how the depth of their bonds sustain them through triumphs and tragedies. Harling wrote the play in 1985 as a way of processing his sister’s death and paying homage to the women from his childhood. It was later adapted into an award-winning film starring Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, Olympia Dukakis and Daryl Hannah.

Unlike the film version, the play exists strictly in the world of women, featuring female characters with the male characters only referenced through dialogue. 

“Working with an all-female cast was absolutely wonderful, and we all talked about how we connected to material both as mothers and daughters. I love that in this show every single person is integral to the play, and it really celebrates the strengths of these women and the beauty of their souls and personalities,” said director Mary Powers. 

Starring Stephanie Moreau (Truvy), Christine N. Boehm (Annelle), Marci Bing (Clairee), Michelle LaBozzetta (Shelby), Linda May (M’Lynn), and Ginger Dalton (Ouiser), Steel Magnolias is a personal favorite of Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel, who first saw the play when it debuted off-Broadway in 1987.

“I believe it is an absolutely perfect play. Very few plays are as well constructed as Steel Magnolias. It is one of the top ten theater experiences of my life. I do not think there is one moment that is false or one moment that does not work. This is the second time we have done it…and we felt it was time to bring it back for our 50th season,” Sanzel said. 

Unfortunately, the 50th anniversary season (2019-2020), designed to showcase some of the of the theater’s most revered productions, was cut short due to the pandemic lockdown.  The cast was completing the rehearsal process and preparing to open the show when the world around it abruptly shut down, and  the show was postponed. After a two-year delay, rehearsals resumed in February of 2022.

“We were very committed to the project. We thoroughly enjoyed the rehearsal process the first time around and were all very invested in coming back, which everyone did,” Powers said. “We kept our schedules clear for that time. It was like riding a bike; one rehearsal and we were back to where we had been with the exact same casting, exact same roles. Nothing changed at all. We all had our scripts and got to work. We get along so well, and the cast and crew are a delight to work with.” 

Interpersonal, emotional connections onstage are reflected in the dynamic between the actresses, who also kept in touch with Powers and Sanzel during the hiatus. 

“One of the best feelings I’ve had thus far was at our read through this year. Finally being together again, hearing everyone’s voices, laughing and crying as we read was such a unique experience and I’ll cherish it forever,” said LaBozzetta. 

The dedication to the material, its message, and each other are highlights of the process, according to Bing, who played the role of M’Lynn in Theatre Three’s production in the 1990s. “We have a strong connection onstage as well as offstage. I love the whole group, which makes it easy to connect,” she said. 

For LaBozzetta, after the interrupted pre-production process, opening the show is a relief. “I am most looking forward to finally having an audience! We’ve been having so much fun in rehearsals and I just cannot wait to share what we’ve created.”

Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson presents Steel Magnolias from April 7 to May 9. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 for children ages 5 and up. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit