When Dawn Wells last appeared at The Alhambra Theatre & Dining, ticket prices started at $7.50 and the dinner theater served a buffet
That was in 1969, when Wells – famous for playing Mary Ann on “Gilligan’s Island” – portrayed the lead in Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park.” This week, Wells returns to The Alhambra stage in “Steel Magnolias” as part of the “50 Years of Memories” celebration at America’s longest-running professional dinner theater.
“It’s great to be back,” Wells told the Recorder during rehearsals last week. “It’s a great cast, a great director and it’s wonderful to see this theater thriving here.”While many dinner theaters that have closed across the country, Wells said, The Alhambra endures as a well-run theater with first-class productions.
“The public is anxious to see something good,” she said. “(The Alhambra) does quality and that makes a difference.”
Set in Truvy’s beauty salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana, “Steel Magnolias” follows a group of local women, including the wise-cracking Truvy; her new assistant, Annelle; M’Lynn, whose daughter Shelby is about to get married; and Ouiser, an eccentric millionaire. Throughout the play, the characters sustain and support one another through the joys of impending marriage, motherhood, and the trials and tragedies of life.
“It’s so beautifully written,” Wells said. “It’s all girls, and what do girls do? We sit around and talk about men.”
The play’s beauty parlor setting is key to the story, she noted.
“A beauty parlor offers tranquility – it offers refuge, because there are no men around,” Wells said. “And it offers trust. You trust that girl doing your hair.”
Written by Robert Harling, “Steel Magnolias” opened off Broadway in 1987 and went on to run for more than 1,100 performances. In 1989, the movie version premiered with an all-star cast, earning several Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations.
“Steel Magnolias” runs through June 25 at The Alhambra Theatre & Dining. Tickets range from $35 to $53 and include dinner, show and parking. For more information, call the box office at (904) 641-1212 or at www.alhambrajax.com.