Moonlight and Magnolias

A Behind the Scenes Look at a Classic American Movie

By Rachael Brice

Photo above, left to right: Googie Uterhardt, William S. Murphey, Bart Hansard, and Mahalia Jackson. Cast photo by Daniel Parvis Photography

This year, the cinematic motion picture Gone with the Wind celebrates its 80th birthday and Georgia Ensemble Theatre (GET) in Roswell is commemorating the occasion with a production of Moonlight and Magnolias, a great comedy and fictional farce that recounts the story of how the iconic film’s script was created.

The show tells the story of producer David O. Selznick, who has just fired the director of Gone with the Wind and is in desperate need of another. To exacerbate the problem, the movie doesn’t have a working script and Selznick’s first choice for a screenwriter, Ben Hecht, hasn’t read the classic novel.

The deadline for a new script is five days away. So, Selznick calls director Victor Fleming, pulling him off of The Wizard of Oz to direct his new movie. Then Selznick does what any sensible man would do—he locks the three of them in his office for five days, living on nothing but bananas and peanuts, as they toil away acting and writing the script to one of the greatest American films of all time.

James Donadio
Director of Moonlight and Magnolias and Associate Artistic Director at GET, James Donadio

Director of Moonlight and Magnolias and Associate Artistic Director at GET, James Donadio, finds the show amusing and believes that any tale that begins with its basis in a true story is always compelling.

“Even though the play is almost all fictional, the story is composed of elements that were true within the storylines of what we know from the characters in real-life,” says Donadio, “but there is more to the production than meets the eye.”

The show is only three scenes, but it spans five days, and by the end of those five days, the set is in disarray—covered in peanut shells, banana skins, and paper wads of rejected script pages—and the characters are exhausted, most of them clothed only in a T-shirt, socks, and underwear. Donadio describes it as a scene from The Walking Dead.

“One of my favorite parts of the play occurs towards the end of the second act when the characters go to desperate lengths to finish the script,” says Donadio. “These men are sleep-deprived. They’ve eaten nothing but bananas and peanuts for five days. They’ve had no contact with the outside world, except Miss Poppenguhl, Selznick’s secretary. They’re frantic. They start out strong, ready to seize the challenge before them, but by the end of the show, they are sobbing in a corner, just wanting to go home.”

Googie Uterhardt, as Ben Hecht, types furiously while David O. Selznick (William S. Murphey) conjures up Scarlett.

Moonlight and Magnolias offers audience members a rare glimpse behind the proverbial curtain into a world they rarely get to see, as some theatre patrons are often unaware of the amount of work and time that goes into making a movie or production, not to mention the challenges the actors, director, and production crew must overcome.

“This show is fascinating to me,” says Donadio “and I want audience members to be delighted when they see it and really enjoy themselves. There may even be a few surprises audiences can learn from the show that they may not know from the movie, like the fact that 1,400 women were interviewed to the play the role of Scarlett O’Hara.”

A professional director and actor, Donadio is putting his own spin on the show, meticulously thinking through every word and movement to make it unique. Even before rehearsals began, he had already read through the script at least 12 times, each time learning something new about a character or adding new directorial notes.

“Directing is very stimulating,” he says. “When you’re a director, the audience sees your overall purview of everything. Good shows, especially comedies, require musicality. It must be well orchestrated, and when it is, it’s a thing of beauty.”

Moonlight and Magnolias will run at GET from January 10–27, 2019. Come out and support the arts while taking a look behind the scenes of one of the most beloved films of all time.

To purchase tickets, visit get.org. ❍

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