BWW Interviews: Denver Center's BETH MALONE on Homecomings, Icons, and MOLLY BROWN
Beth, it is such a delight to have this conversation with you! Now what production are you coming off of and tell me about your talented career since leaving Denver?
I just came from, well, to ANNNIE GET YOUR GUN in San Diego and then I did SOUTH PACIFIC in Sacramento. Before that I was taking a little break after the last FUN HOME, which was at The Public, last winter. FUN HOME has just gone from a different space, from space to space to space to space within the Public Theatre over the last three years. We started at the Yester Hall. We went to the Shiva a couple of years ago to do the workshop production of it. And then last year we were in The Numan; the big big big theatre with the whole orchestrations and it was our first time with a beautiful orchestra and that's when we made the cast album. That's when all the reviews came out and it was crazy, because up until then it was just a project, a labor of love. It was a lot of work and no money and it was very insular because it didn't have an audience and then finally it got to the point where it's like, okay, well the Public believes enough in us to give us this space. They had first given us the Ahnsbaeger, which is a smaller space within The Public and then they moved us up to The Newman. When we heard we were moving to The Newman is was like, ooh-la-la, things must be heating up over there. So we did that, and then we opened and these crazy reviews started coming out. And then it got really nuts. Every famous person that you ever wanted to meet came to the show and waited for you afterwards and wanted to meet you and talk to you. Every single famous person you ever wanted to meet, except not Jodie Foster. No Jodie Foster yet. I'm waiting to meet Jodie and I'm going to meet here this year, I'm sure.
We are soooo excited about your show, THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN at the Denver Center...What do you hope audiences take from this production?
I'm hoping that the people of Denver, our audience of course, that when they come and see it that they are transported just like I have been every day of rehearsal. It's really just so special, I love it. It's a big thing for the Denver Center but it's a huge thing for us. All of us are New York actors, you know, it's not just big for Denver people. It's big for us because you have Kathleen Marshal, and you have Dick Scanlan, and you have Michael Rafter, and all three of them are at the top of their game right now and they're working with their hearts and their soles on this piece. We just had our zitz probe up there and it was just astounding to sing with the orchestra for the first time. We've heard it with however many pieces that was, I think 12 pieces and it was such a beautiful mix. There are bluegrassy instruments, like a big standup bass along with a bunch of horns. So it's very Whitten Marcellas and it's got this very interesting feel to it. It's beautiful. And it's got that Meredith Wilson empatice behind everything. Everything sounds like a Meredith Wilson song because it is! It's brilliant. It's going to harken you to THE MUSIC MAN in the best way. But it's very much its own piece.
Molly Brown is such a treasured icon- What sets her apart?
Molly Brown should be an icon across the board because she is a humongously powerful human being. She implemented a ton of change in this community. She really was an activist. She was a complete socialist. She really wanted to educate the poor, and make sure that everyone had coats in the winter. She wanted women to be able to vote, she was a suffragette. She's an icon because she is an exemplary human being. She just wanted to live a huge life. She had a voracious appetite for learning, not just for power and fame. But she did have a voracious appetite for power and fame as well. But she learned several languages. Not only did she learn to read and write, but she learned to read and write: French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Chinese. She literally did help. On the Titanic, she was one of the people interpreting for all the different languages when they were trying to sort things out. She learned to play the guitar, she learned to yodel. And she was taking acting lessons! When she died she was in New York, living at the Barbazon Hotel taking acting classes. At the age of sixty. You know, she was not done yet. She died of a stroke probably in the middle of the night, that's how she passed and she was very young
What does she mean to you?
I just love her so much. There are people, because it was not that long ago, but there are people kicking around Denver who knew the Brown's and knew the family. They seemed to know her and you never know what kind of opinions about her you are going to get. She was a threatening person to a lot of people, especially to the men of the time because she was fearless and relentless and she was very driven. There is a rumor; do you know Gary Gim? He's a local guy who teaches and he was an actor. He seemed to know a lot about Molly Brown because his family knew the Brown's growing up here. He's like a local. And he said that what JJ said when he heard that she didn't drown on the Titanic was, he didn't say "unsinkable" he said, "That fucking bitch won't die!". (laughter) That's what she says he says. But that's not the love story we are telling here at all! (more laughter) But it is a little bit threatening when you have a woman who just will not play by the rules. You know what I mean? For me, I am a woman who does not play by the rules and I've suffered. When you don't play by the rules, people penalize you socially. There are certain social penalties that you don't get treated with the same perks as someone who just.... You know? You know exactly what I'm saying. So you don't enjoy the same loving appreciation as you walk down a public street as someone with a nice handsome husband who is holding a baby. When that goes down the street, people are like, 'aww, what a beautiful family'. But when me and my wife and my dogs are walking down the street people don't stop and say, 'aww, you have a beautiful family'. Actually, one time in my whole life it has happened. We were in a gas station in Las Vegas, putting gas. One was putting gas, one was walking dogs and someone said,"You have a beautiful family." And I will never forget it. I was, like, "Thank you! I do have a beautiful family!"
What challenges have you faced in this role?
It's a monster. She talks a lot. She sings a lot. She drives every scene. Every new idea is mine. You know what I mean? So I'm driving every scene, and you know when you're in a musical you have to be likeable. How HAVE to be likeable. You can't just boss everybody around and start pushing through everybody unless you're real adorable. So it's tricky to be someone so strong and really likeable. That's a hard line to walk. So that's tricky but also stamina wise. I'm old. I'm an old ass crunchy dike. I've hurt my rib and I hurt my back, I twisted my ankle. I'm tired at the end of the day. I have invested in Epsom salts. And when I'm done here I have to shut up and I can't talk. All my friends are like, call me call me call me. I'm like, I'd love to see you, I'd love to go out with you. I can't. I don't get to. All the cast is on GroupMe, and they're like; we're in the pool, we're in the gym, come out come out, we're at the Hard Rock, we're at Rock Bottom. And I'm always just having to stay quiet. I know if I go out I'll talk. So I have to ...not talk.
Any quirks that amuse you?
For me, you know that song, She Ain't Down Yet? She's relentlessly optimistic and that's a really really fun quirk to play. The silver bust devastated everybody. There were literally people starving to death. They didn't have coats and they didn't have food. She literally was like, "Let's form a choir and we'll sing. At least we'll sing!"Or it's like, "Let's figure out how to mine gold, since we're sitting on top of a gold mine." The thing is, in our show, you have to acknowledge the old show a little bit, so there are lines that sort of tip their hat to the old show. Like how she burnt up three hundred thousand dollars in the stove and JJ Brown says to me in the show, "You know the papers have got you canoodling with Mark Twain, they got you singing at a saloon in Leadville, and they even say you burnt up 300,000 dollars in the stove so I could warm my backside!" And all of that stuff is straight from the movie. They did the lore of Molly Brown, because the lore of Molly Brown was bigger than the facts of Molly Brown, and she perpetuated that. She would be like, "Let's call the Denver Post, let's have an interview!" She very much liked the limelight. And that's another quirk that is sort of funny. You have to play someone who likes, and needs, and wants a lot of attention. But she also deserved a lot of attention because she did so much good
How has this Denver homecoming been for you?
It's been amazing. Colorado is my favorite place. No matter where I've been, Colorado is always my favorite place. We still have a place in Snowmass so we come over a lot, but I don't come to Denver, and this is really where I'm from from, is Castle Rock. So being on this side of the Rockies and being in this building where I was so many years ago, doing SAIL AWAY, that was a million years ago, but some of the same people are still around. Wardrobe people, Chris, Stage Management, same people. It's almost like if I didn't come back it wouldn't exist but then I came back and it's still here. It really happened and that was a whole other life time ago. It's such a weird feeling to come back and say, "Yes, this was my life. My whole identity was wrapped up in this. I went to the box office today and was walking through the galleria and just had this feeling of being 18 years old again. Of coming up and working in BEE HIVE, I was in BEE HIVE in what was the Stage West a long time ago and now it's the little cabaret theatre, and just got those little butterflies in my stomach from just being on the campus. It's more than I can express in words, it really is. It's very powerful and meaningful. The whole thing of this New York team coming here, and so I get to do a world class thing and be home at the same time. It's just too much. It's too good to be true and I can't quite believe it. And Dick Scanlan, he's so amazing! Even if nothing else came out of this it would be that I met, and know him now, I would consider myself ahead of the game. He's a stunning human being. He is one of the most elegant creatures I've ever met. He's a lovely human from an advanced race, Dick Scanlan is.
What is your favorite thing about Denver to do, eat, see?
The one thing I had to do was get green chile. That was it. Get green chilli. Also, I want to take the whole cast to Casa Bonita. I want to show them everything, but I can't. It's like, oh my god if you just go on this one hike up the Flatirons you'd be so happy.....But I can't take you. (laughter) I'm tired. You know what I mean? It's like, oh my god we have to go to The Rio on the mall and get plastered, it would be so much fun.... But I can't take you. I did send them over to the Rio to get those margaritas with the everclear in them.
What do you like to do in your downtime?
I like to BBQ. I like to binge watch TV shows with my family on the couch. I like a lot of mountain biking and a lot of skiing. I love to do walks. Now that I'm older I love to go on walks. We got this bird feeder in our back yard and Shelly and I started watching the birds. We just go out there with our beers and starts watching. We start watching what happens when we fill the bird feeder. And that's how you know we're getting fucking old, but we're getting so much pleasure out of this. Instead of getting a pool we just put bird seed in the bird feeder. (laughter)
Is there a play or musical that you absolutely adore and would direct or star in over and over again?
I'd love to do ANNIE GET YOUR GUN. I love that score. It would be so fun. I know gun control is a real big issue now but it would be so fun to hold a rifle and "pop". It would be so fun. FUN HOME I could do until the cows come home. It's very exhausting emotionally, but the story is so important, I really look forward to getting back into that family again. Really it's all about the shoes. In FUN HOME I wear Converse and corduroy and a t-shirt. No eye liner, no mascara, no fucking eye-lash glue. No high heels.
What's next for you after this?
Well, there's a four month period before FUN HOME starts and I'd like to take some time off but November is a really good time to go back to L.A. and book some stuff, so I'm going back to L.A. and try and make some TV money. I would love to take November off. Just go up to the mountains and wait for it to turn from fall to winter. And ski on Thanksgiving Day and then go back. But by then you've missed all the Christmas commercials, basically. You need to be there in November to book and shoot those Christmas commercials. It's all about the bank account. You've got to get that bike account nice and squishy so you can afford to do theatre. (laughter)
Again thank you so much for speaking with me and BroadwayWorld.com today and I look forward to Molly Brown at the Denver Center!
PHOTO CREDIT: Emily Lozow
From This Author Michael Mulhern