By MIKE CHAIKEN
On the local performing arts scene, you typically have seen teen Autumn Eliza Sheffy breaking into song.
Whether she is stepping on to stage as part of the cast of a local musical – such as her recent performance in “West Side Story” with the Get Up Stage Company—or wowing crowds with her singing at Connecticut Icon or the Southington Italian-American Festival—Autumn often is seen and heard giving her vocal chords a workout.
The 17-year-old Southington High School senior, however, is giving the musical notes a rest this weekend as she takes on the role of Shelby in the Southington Community Theater production of the stage play “Steel Magnolias.”
The play continues through Saturday at Plantsville Congregational Church.
Asked how it felt not being able to belt out a song on stage for this performance, Autumn said, “It’s crazy, I was just telling my mom (Heidi Bass Lamberto, who plays her stage mother M’Lynn), ‘Mom, it’s nerve-racking not being able to fall back on a song.’ [In a musical] I usually only have to remember five lines and then I sing my heart out. This is only my second play so it’s really weird. But it’s so fun.”
Press materials from SCT explain, that in “Steel Magnolias, “The action is set in Truvy’s beauty salon in Chinquapin, La., where all the ladies who are ‘anybody’ come to have their hair done. Helped by her eager new assistant, Annelle… wise-cracking Truvy dispenses shampoos and free advice to the town’s rich curmudgeon, Ouiser… an eccentric millionaire, Miss Clairee… and the local social leader, M’Lynn, whose daughter, Shelby… is about to marry a ‘good ole boy.’”
Autumn said her character, Shelby, is” different from any character I’ve played. Usually I play the tomboy or the romantic lead. She has so much depth in her despite all of her personal problems of diabetes or trying to have babies with her (ailing) kidneys. She just puts the light on to everybody else’s world, asking how their day was instead of saying, ‘Well, my day was awful.’”
Asked if she saw any similarities between herself and her character, Autumn said, “Both Shelby and I take things pretty comically. I bust my mom (M’Lynn) a lot in this show, saying, ‘Mom, you’re not doing this right.’ ‘Your hair looks weird.’ That’s exactly what I would do in real life with my mom and she’ll bust me right back.”
That said, Autumn continued, “I’m a little different because [Shelby’s] really lighthearted about the things going on in her life. But I think I would be a little more worried about what’s happening. But she takes everything and moves on. She’s just an amazing character. I wish I could be more like her.”
“Steel Magnolias” originally was a stage play. And that stage play eventually was turned into a film in which Julia Roberts took on the role played by Autumn in the SCT production.
Asked how it felt being in a role that is associated with a screen superstar like Roberts, Autumn said, “I see it as a challenge and an opportunity. It’s like trying to play Santa Claus. Everyone knows how Santa Claus is going to act what he does. I don’t see myself playing (Shelby) exactly [as Julia Roberts did]. That wouldn’t be fun. I’m taking what she does, and taking what everyone does [in the role], and I’m putting my own spin on it.”
As for the play itself, Shelby said, “I like that it’s different from a lot of things. It’s filled with comedy and it brings you to tears. And you can watch it and you can feel as if you’re a part of it, like you’re in it, instead of just… seeing these characters do their parts in the play. It’s really interesting.”
“Steel Magnolias” is unique for a stage production because there are no male characters on stage. And this is a dimension Autumn appreciates.
“[In an all female cast] you can play off each other really well,” said Autumn.
“It’s weird looking around and not seeing I have this romantic lead to follow. You just have people who all care about you in the show and they’re all women,” said Autumn.
For the SCT production, Autumn also finds herself the youngest person on stage.
“It’s a little bit of pressure,” said Autumn of being the baby on stage. “My aunt’s also in [this production]. She’s been performing all of her life and directing. She knows how to play the role. And my mom also played Shelby so she knows how to play the role too. It’s a little bit hard [being a newbie].”
Autumn also finds herself on stage with her mother and stepfather within reach. Her mother shares the stage with her. And her stepfather, Tony Lamberto, is directing the SCT production.
“It’s really cool,” said Autumn. However, she also said, “It’s weird because you try to live up to their expectations. You don’t want to let anyone down.”
“But I love working with my mom and she’s one of the best actresses I know. I’m not just saying that. She’s the one who made me want to perform,” said Autumn.
Plus, said Autum, “Working off her is somewhat easier because I know how she’s going to react to how I say my lines. She puts so much into it.”
“And working for my step dad, Tony, he’s an amazing director,” said Autumn. “When we came in he had everything set up. We went through the show in about two rehearsals. It’s amazing to have people who you know are going to do their job.”
Even though she is the director’s stepdaughter, Autumn said, “Tony treats me as any other cast member…He treats everyone the same way, which is how it should be.”
Asked what she liked about the Southington Community Theater’s approach to its production of “Steel Magnolias,” Autumn said, “Tony took a kind of straight forward take to it with a little bit of a twist to it… SCT did ‘Steel Magnolias’ a few years back so we’re trying to follow that a little bit. But we try to put our whole heart into it and add a little bit more comedy into it. It’s a really fun.’
Autumn said audiences should come see the show, first of all, because the cast has a ton of experience. “They’re so talented,” said Autumn.
Secondly, Autumn said, “It’s just an amazing show… If people loved the movie, they should see the show. And if they loved the show they’re going to love this. It’s amazing.”
Southington Community Theatre is performing “Steel Magnolias” on Sept. 11, 12, and 13 at 7:30 p.m. at Plantsville Congregational Church, 109 Church St., Plantsville. Tickets at the door are $15.
The show stars Autumn Eliza Sheffy, Tiffany Sabato, Heidi Bass Lamberto, Kelly Andrews Stuper, Helen Anne Crowley, and Patricia Hackett. It is directed by Tony Lamberto Jr. It is produced by Peter E. Pristic.
For more information, visit southingtoncommunitytheatre.org. For information, email southingtoncommunitytheatre@gmail. com or call (860) 877-3210.
Comments? Email mchaiken@BristolObserver.com.
By MIKE CHAIKEN