Typically, when TV shows are adapted for the theater, it’s in the form of a spoof or a greatest-hits reproduction of the original, such as “I Love Lucy Live on Stage,” which was presented at Boston’s Colonial Theatre in 2013, or “Cheers Live on Stage,” seen at the Shubert Theatre in 2016.
One dismal example of the spoof genre that came to Boston a couple of years ago was “The Office! A Musical Parody,” which proved to be more travesty than parody. In my review, I described it as “a cheesy attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the classic NBC sitcom without demonstrating much understanding of what made it so great.”
Whatever its other flaws, a lack of understanding of the source material is unlikely to be a problem with “Designing Women,” a new, two-act stage comedy.
Why? Because it was written by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, creator of the sitcom of the same name that ran on CBS from 1986 to 1993 and imprinted its strong feminist sensibility on prime time.
The theatrical version of “Designing Women” brings its characters into nearly the present day. They experience the turmoil of the 2020 presidential election and the pandemic. And the script? According to Alexis Soloski, writing in The New York Times, it displays Bloodworth-Thomason’s “practiced style, a rapier with a bedazzled handle.”
Directed by Bloodworth-Thomason’s husband, Harry Thomason, “Designing Women” is currently receiving its premiere at TheatreSquared in Fayetteville, Ark., reportedly with hopes for an eventual Broadway run.
The original TV version of “Designing Women” focused on four women at an interior design firm in Atlanta: Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter), her sister Suzanne Sugarbaker (Delta Burke), Mary Jo Shively (Annie Potts), and Charlene Frazier (Jean Smart). A later addition as partner was Anthony Bouvier (Meshach Taylor).
The stage production coincides with a career high for original TV cast member Smart, who last month won her fourth Emmy Award for her performance as comedian Deborah Vance in HBO Max’s “Hacks.” That put an exclamation point on a streak that has included bravura performances by Smart over the past few years in “Fargo” and “Mare of Easttown.”
The new “Designing Women” also arrives at a more fraught political moment than the original had to contend with. “As a television show, it straddled the political divide, allowing both progressive and conservative women to see themselves represented, glamorously,’’ noted Soloski. “Those divides are wider now. But if these characters can still talk to one another onstage, maybe audience members can continue those conversations offstage, with or without repartee.”