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The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Like the tales of Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill, the myth of Molly Brown knew no bounds; but unlike those two giants of western American folklore, Molly was a real person. In an effort to update the original Broadway musical, Dick Scanlan, (additional lyrics and book)—a friend of Richard Morris (original book) and a Meredith Willson (original music and lyrics) admirer—revisited and reconceived Molly's story, while adding some never before heard melodies from the Willson songbook. The result, in the Denver Center Theatre Company's world premiere, is a more compelling, personal, and historically accurate revival.

Beth Malone as Molly Brown
Beth Malone as Molly Brown
Photo: Jennifer M. Koskinen
If this proves anything, it's that Molly Brown really is unsinkable. Not only did she survive the Titanic, but 54 years after the original musical, she has returned bigger and better than ever.

All the favorites songs from the original 1960 production—including "I Ain't Down Yet," "Belly Up to the Bar, Boys," and "I'll Never Say No"—remain, complimented by some fine new numbers that bring depth to the new book.

Beth Malone as Molly Brown and Burke Moses as J.J. Brown
Beth Malone as Molly Brown
and Burke Moses as J.J. Brown
Photo: Jennifer M. Koskinen
Beth Malone, as the title heroine, is a wonder, singing and dancing up a storm while fully inhabiting Molly's irrepressible personality and spirit, keeping it front and center throughout, and is genuinely funny whenever appropriate.

Molly and J.J.'s relationship is an epic clash between two dominant personalities, drawn together by love and driven apart by worldview. Malone and Burke Moses (J.J. Brown) are terrific exploring this dichotomy, with palpable chemistry, alternately soothing and volatile, during the courtship and marriage. Malone's great range and projection coupled with Moses' rich timbre make for sweet music together.

Constantine Germanacos as Vincenzo and Whitney Bashor as Julia Gerrard
Constantine Germanacos as Vincenzo
and Whitney Bashor as Julia Gerrard
Photo: Jennifer M. Koskinen
Scanlan's new book weaves some additional twists into the subplots, including the romance of Vincenzo (Constantine Germanacos) and Julia (Whitney Bashor), the Brown's relationship with Horace (John Hickok) and Baby Doe Tabor (Donna English), and the early tension between the Browns and Denver elite society, particularly with Louise Sneed-Hill (Patty Goble).

Molly's work on behalf of the poor and the union movement followed by J.J.'s affair led to their separation, which is covered by a beautiful sequence ("Dolce Far Niente") mixing their correspondence with scenes from Denver (J.J.) and Europe (Molly).

Denver's high society, the Sacred 36
Denver's high society,
the Sacred 36
Photo: Jennifer M. Koskinen
The only weaknesses of the production are right at the top: with an overly long, dialogue-heavy, first scene (Prologue)—a flash-forward to Molly in the life boat as the Titanic goes down ("May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You"); followed by the first production number, "Colorado, My Home," featuring the Leadville miners, with uninspiring choreography that fails to cover the stage.

Granted, establishing the origin of Molly's Unsinkable nickname at the top of the show is a good idea, but the Prologue needs to make its point and move on to a big production number that kicks off the story. Perhaps our vantage point high up in the Stage Theatre diluted the miners' dance lines, but there was a lot of unfilled space surrounding rote geometric patterns. A larger orchestra would help, of course, but the Stage isn't the Buell or NYC. The opening aside, the show has what it takes to make a splash on Broadway.

Above all, the reconceived story stands as a far better testament to a remarkable person. Molly never forgot where she came from and, when she did hit the jackpot, put her money where her heart and mouth were: she was a founding member of the Denver Woman's Club (which advocated literacy, education, suffrage, and human rights); she helped build the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and Saint Joseph's hospital; and, she helped destitute children and the establishment of the first juvenile court in the country. Her house is busy historic landmark and J.J.'s hotel remains one of the crown jewels of the Queen City of the Plains.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's world premiere of The Unsinkable Molly Brown runs through October 26th. For tickets: 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.

Bob Bows

 

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