No-nonsense mother of three M'Lynn Eatenton (Queen Latifah) is hosting a joyful Christmas bash in her Louisiana home when she gets some hard-to-hear news: Her diabetic, newlywed daughter Shelby (Condola Rashad) is pregnant, a condition that she might not survive. Thankfully, M'Lynn is not alone: Her friends wrap her in a cocoon of love and support. Sound familiar?
Yep, the loving, lippy ladies of Truvy's Beauty Spot are back, thanks to producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan (Smash, Chicago), who've adapted the iconic Robert Harling play-turned-1989 weepie movie hit Steel Magnolias. Says Meron, "There's no better piece for great actresses."
But why risk remaking a fan favorite that featured memorable turns by Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton and a young Julia Roberts? "We wouldn't have done it if we didn't have our own unique take," says Meron, "and we do — our glorious cast." And how: Golden Globe, Grammy, Tony and Emmy Award winners Latifah, Jill Scott, Phylicia Rashad and Alfre Woodard join talented newcomers Adepero Oduye and Condola Rashad (Phylicia's daughter), who stars as the tragic Shelby.
With a cast like that, it's no wonder Lifetime quickly said yes to the remake. Nancy Dubuc, the president of Lifetime networks, "was wild with excitement" at the idea of doing this version of her favorite movie, Zadan recalls. So was the playwright: "Robert Harling always had a vision of a Steel Magnolias with an all-black cast," says Latifah.
The racial switch-up serves to illustrate how the story is "universal," says Rashad on the Atlanta set. "You could place this in Ireland, in North Korea, anywhere there are women who love each other." Latifah, who's also a producer, agrees. "It's just a little different flavor."
There was one important change from the original, however. Twenty-five years after the play opened, it has become much safer for a diabetic woman to bear a child. After consulting with doctors, producers added a kidney condition that could threaten the young bride's life. "The biggest thing about Shelby," says Condola, "is that her mind and her spirit are stronger than her body." Or as the character famously says in the movie, "I'd rather have 60 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special." In this case, everybody connected to Lifetime's Steel Magnolias is hoping for a couple hours of wonderful.
Steel Magnolias airs Sunday at 9/8c on Lifetime.