You have to ask: What is it, you say to the Tony-nominated director of Avenue Q, that qualifies him to direct the six Dixie damsels at Truvy's beauty parlor in Steel Magnolias?
"These women are different from puppets," Jason Moore grinningly allows. "They're a lot more fun" — and fun's the operative word for both his Broadway shows.
That and friendship. Robert Harling's 18-year-old Off-Broadway hit, now rating a star-packed Broadway revival at the Lyceum, focuses on an unshakable sisterhood that forms under the hair dryers every Saturday morning in a small Louisiana community.
Being a true son of the South gives him a definite edge as well. "I'm from [Fayetteville] Arkansas, so it was important to me that we get the setting and the accents and the characters correctly. Often, people have this big-hair-and-shoulder-pads caricature view of Southern women. That's why we have these great actresses on the case. They're funny and, at the same time, they're real." Moore took time and care to cast the play precisely on the button: Delta Burke is the beauty-parlor proprietress, and Lily Rabe is her assistant. Their colorful clientele includes Rebecca Gayheart as a bride-to-be, Christine Ebersole as her mother, Frances Sternhagen as the mayor's widow and Marsha Mason as the chronically cranky town malcontent.
"It's a real challenge in casting a true ensemble play like this," Moore contends. "Sometimes on Broadway, you cast one person and then you cast everyone else around that person. This isn't that kind of play. It's about generations of women. Their ages have to relate. If the Shelby character is going to be a certain age, then her mother has to be a certain age, which means the older generation has to be a certain age, so you're always doing this delicate dance to make sure that the ensemble as a whole comes together, that they are going to play off each other well, that they feel balanced.
"The best part is they're all wonderful people — as individuals — in a show about a supportive group of women who help each other through things. That's the type of women these actresses are, so it's nice to have that onstage and offstage."
A boyish 34, Moore sometimes has the sensation that he's directing his mother. "That's exactly what it is like. This is one of my mom's favorite plays, and this is a group of women that I know because they were the women who brought me up. My mom was a single mom, so there were a lot of women around all the time. I didn't go to the beauty parlor — men weren't invited — or, if I did, I was too young to appreciate it."
He does now.