Behind the curtain with ‘Steel Magnolias’ and Cullman Community Theatre

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The cast and crew of “Steel Magnolias” prepare for the second act during rehearsal on Tuesday, Feb. 7. From the left are Savannah Smith, Paige Clabo, Laura Harris, Chellie Letson, Drenda Walker and Carron Clark. (Amy Leonard for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – As opening night and the inevitable curtain calls near, the cast and crew of Cullman Community Theatre’s (CCT) “Steel Magnolias” are busy at work putting the finishing touches on the play, which is sacred among women of the South. Scheduled to run Feb. 16-19 at the Traditions Bank venue, CCT’s first 2023 performance sold out in days, making it the hottest ticket in town. 

“We originally opened our ticket sales with 150 seats per show with four performances and we had fully sold out three days later,” shared Noah Carpenter. “Our team met that day and expanded each show to accommodate the continued heavy demand, and by the end of the same week we had over 200 tickets sold per performance. I have continued to receive calls and requests as recently as last night! Selling out is an incredible problem to have; this is a show that we know will sell out every year and so far in our three-year history of holding it that proves true. This is definitely the fasted year though!” 

Written by Dothan, Alabama, native Robert Harling in 1985, “Steel Magnolias” was off-Broadway by 1987 and on the big screen in 1989. The film version starred several revered actresses, including Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah and Olympia Dukakis.  

“’Steel Magnolias’ is a picture of a slice of Southern culture,” said Director Rodney Basenburg. “It brings to life many delightful characters that we know from growing up in the South. The playwright uses comedy and dramatic moments to present this story based on real life occurrences.” 

He continued, “We have an extremely good cast for this production. Several of the ladies are experienced actresses. Others have much less, to zero, experience. They have joined together to make a perfect cast. Others have played important roles as support personnel. It takes several people to pull off a live production. The best part is how the cast and crew have become a family and have become lifelong friends.” 

Formed in the summer of 2018, CCT has grown in leaps and bounds since. 

“Our first show was ‘The Music Man,’ a Cullman favorite made famous locally by its time on stage at East Elementary led by CCT Board Member and current President Cindy Pass,” Carpenter shared of the early days of the theater. “It’s been great to see the  growth from 20 or so people in our first interest meeting and 30 or so people in our first cast to the numbers we see today. It really speaks volumes about the importance of having a community theater in Cullman. We have a community where that so passionately supports the performing arts now and it is so incredible to see and hear the stories of members of our community whose lives have been so positively affected by the work we do in this organization, both stage and from the audience.” 

The show for CCT must go on before the curtain is even raised for “Steel Magnolias.” It has just secured the rights to “Children of Eden,” which will be its summer musical. 

“Our team is super excited to jump into that project and bring a new show to our community that they may not be as familiar with,” said Carpenter. “We are also in the middle of planning dates for our summer theater camp that we do in partnership with Cullman City Parks, Recreation & Sports Tourism which tees us of for our fall children’s musical every year! Additionally, we are getting ready for some talks to see how we can be more involved in some of the events and festivals that CPRST holds throughout the year!” 

Carpenter is quick to show his appreciation for the City of Cullman and CPRST for their help with CCT and all of its productions. 

“It is little-known fact that we are actually under the parks and rec umbrella, and we receive an incredible amount of support from them and the City throughout the year, and we are very excited to become a bigger part in helping them create the festival experiences that our community continues to be known for,” he said.  

Cast and crew members for “Steel Magnolias” include:  

  • M’Lynn – Carron Clark  
  • Shelby – Savannah Smith  
  • Truvy – Melissa Lawler  
  • Ouiser – Drenda Walker  
  • Annelle – Chellie Letson  
  • Clairee – Laura Harris  
  • Director – Rodney Basenburg  
  • Co-Director – Nick Shabel  
  • Production Operations Director – Noah Carpenter  
  • Costumes/Makeup – Paige Clabo  
  • Hospitality/House Manager – Casey Sandlin