Unsinkable Molly Brown at Stage Theater, Denver Center of the Performing Arts

Molly BrownUnstoppable Beth Malone wows audience in “Unsinkable Molly Brown”

Reviewed by Tom Jones, October 16, 2014

“Unsinkable Molly Brown” at Stage Theater, Denver Center of the Performing Arts

She’s barely five feet tall, but she just can’t be stopped! The miners in Leadville are in awe of her, including J. J. Brown who marries her, but can’t control her! Denver society look down their noses at her, and European nobility are in delighted by her. Also in awe are the audiences at The Stage Theatre of the Denver Center of Performing Arts as Beth Malone proves to be unstoppable as the tough Molly Brown!

Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen
Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen

“The Unsinkable Molly Brown” is a curious bit of theatre history. Meredith Willson’s masterwork, “The Music Man” opened in New York in 1957, was an enormous success, and continues to wow audiences worldwide. Setting for the “Music Man” was small town Iowa which Willson knew and loved. He was intimately involved with every aspect of that delightful show. What to do for an encore? Three years later, he moved into less familiar territory, taking on the rough and tumble tale of Margaret Tobin, an uneducated young woman from Hannibal, Missouri, who ended up as the famous Titanic survivor, “Molly Brown.” The original Broadway production starred Tammy Grimes, who emerged as the belle of Broadway as the scrappy Molly. Debbie Reynolds played the role in the 1962 movie musical. Those versions of the Molly Brown story were pleasant, kind of hokey, and not particularly enthralling. The stage musical does continue to enjoy some success throughout the nation, as presented by local theaters and school productions.

Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen
Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen

A few years ago a group of creative theatrical talents looked carefully at the original show, and decided to make some substantial changes. With permission from Willson’s widow, they went to work to restructure the story. Dick Scanlan began revising the show’s book seven years ago, with permission from the estate of Richard Morris, the original author. The new book is more historically accurate, and the story has been modified to emphasize the frustrations and successes of Molly and J.J. Emphasis has been placed on Molly’s work in politics and the feminist movement. Some of the original songs have been retained, but several new ones appear in this re-imagined “Unsinkable.” The resulting changes are enormously successful, with the DCPA production providing the premier of the new show! The story now begins with the sinking of the Titanic, and moves backward to look at Molly’s original arrival in Leadville.

Leading the triumphant new show is Coloradoan Beth Malone. The diminutive Malone has enormous talent, continually lighting up the stage! She also enjoys terrific chemistry with Burke Moses as J. J., whose amazing baritone is not daunted by Malone’s magnetism! The two are a terrific foil for each other – loving, quarreling, and not quite willing to let the other lead his/her own life – without interruption!

Another triumph of the production is the work of Kathleen Marshall who directed and choreographed the show. Marshall is among a handful of Broadway creative talents who appears to have the Midas touch, resulting in golden results of everything she directs! She has been in involved with reworking “Unsinkable” for several years.

And what a show she directs? The stage is enormous, with excellent backdrops of the Colorado mountains and the Denver skyline. Openings in the stage floor make it possible for scenery (and people) to make entrances and exits from below, instead of from sides of the stage. The lighting is breathtaking, from the star-ridden Colorado sky to the North Atlantic Ocean as well as to the Brown’s Denver home and highlights of Europe! Costumes are a non-stop treat of color and fashion – depicting styles of the era – and sometimes not quite as stylish as today’s wealthy might prefer! Choreography is brilliant.

The entire cast is amazing! Of special note are Cameron Adams as Maureen, Whitney Bashor as Julia, David Abeles as Erich, Donna English as Baby Joe Tabor, Constantine Germanacos as Vincenzo, John Hickok as Horace Tabor. Many in the cast play more than one role, giving the impression that the cast is substantially larger than it truly is.

Much of the music remains familiar, including the exuberant “I Aint Down Yet,” “I’ll Never Say No,” “The Beautiful People of Denver,” and the lilting “Dolce Far Niente.” Among the Meredith Wilson songs added to the show are the familiar “May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You.” As several of the original songs are no longer in the new production, I had difficulty early in the show trying to keep track of what was happening now, vs what I remember from earlier productions and the movie. I finally realized that what I was seeing is vastly more interesting than my earlier memories, and relaxed to enjoy the entire production!

The revised “Unsinkable Molly Brown” is a triumph. This is a very classy production displaying the creative writing, directing and performing talents of a huge group of sensational artists!
– – – –

“The Unsinkable Molly Brown”
Stage Theatre, Denver Center of the Performing Arats
Through October 26. 2014
Tickets: 303/893-4100
800/641-1222, TTY 303/893-9582