A finishing school report card for the ladies of Steel Magnolias would give top marks for home-making, hairdressing, beauty and deportment, with a must-try-harder for elocution.

This Angel Theatre production at the Herald Theatre has strong elements including a feminine black and white John Parker set, costumes that would sit comfortably in Dolly Parton's wardrobe and a sassy Southern soundtrack.

Director Amanda Rees has drawn solid performances from most of the cast but all are let down by their damn pesky Southern accents. This puts an unnecessary distance between the performers and the audience, hampering immersion into the world of Truvy's beauty salon.

But plenty of famous faces have committed worse linguistic crimes and, on opening night, this tear-jerker had audience members snuffling. Standout moments come from Donogh Rees and Ascia Maybury who create a realistic mother-and-daughter relationship through their easy onstage intimacy. Donogh is especially powerful in railing against the injustice of the death of her child in a scene set up by Ascia's portrayal of her angelic daughter.

The lighter moments and sassy one-liners come from Jacque Drew, as salon owner Truvy, and Abigail Greenwood, as assistant Annelle. They give well-rounded performances, have the most consistent accents and demonstrate impressive hairdressing skills.

Steel Magnolias highlights the strength of female friendships without delving into darker aspects of female jealousy and competition. The characters' eccentricities and Robert Harding's snappy dialogue save it from "disease of the week" territory but it still seems quaint, gentle fun - like sipping pink lemonade on a porch swing.

* Steel Magnolias at the Herald Theatre, Friday to Sunday, to Feb 13