BWW Reviews: The Denver Center Breathes New Life and Unexpected Delight into THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN!
The highly anticipated new adaptation of Meredith Willson's classic musical, THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN (Based on the book by Richard Morris, with a newly revised book and additional lyrics by Dick Scanlan and musical adaptation by Michael Rafter) plays the Stage Theatre of the Denver Center now until October 26th. Rooted in extensive research of the turbulent Gold Rush era, Colorado's most treasured rags-to-riches romance traces Molly's rise from a small-town tomboy to a member of Denver's high society. The core of this musical comedy is the tempestuous can't-live-with him/can't-live-without him love story that survives the Silver Boom, the Gold Rush, and the R.M.S. Titanic. First immortalized in the 1960 Broadway musical, Molly Brown was also at the heart of the very successful movie musical adaptation starring Debbie Reynolds and among the dramatic highlights of James Cameron's box office movie hit, Titanic. The production features the iconic songs, "I Ain't Down Yet," "Belly Up To The Bar Boys," and "Colorado, My Home," and "I'll Never Say No."
"Sure I'm tuckered, and I may give out, but will not give in!"
I must admit, I was intrigued by the revitalization of this classic, especially having just seen Meredith Willson's original concept performed up in Northern Colorado last year. While I did enjoy the Candlelight Dinner Theatre's performance and their Molly Brown was quite good, the show felt dated and a little worn out. Also while it followed Molly's entire life (and felt like we over extended our stay in several scenes) it lacked focus and charm; and I was most unsettled that her iconic Titanic survival was more like an afterthought than a focus with just one small scene. Thanks to the genius, thoughtful retooling of Dick Scanlan and Michael Rafter, from the opening scene, we knew we were in for something familiar, yet completely different. Honestly the first scene of the survivors on the lifeboat of the Titanic and their passionate and ethical struggle on what to do next came as such a shock to me that it brought me to tears. This is what the show was always missing - the members of that lifeboat did not know if they would live or die and thus the entire show became a flashback to Molly's beginnings and had the audience instantly intrigued and engaged. From this point that we are transported into an entirely new show. Actually the only characters that remained in the revision were Molly and J. J. and the new characters added such depth, charisma and enhanced not only the show, but also Molly and J. J.'s characters as well. We were also treated to never before heard songs from Willson's prolific body of work and I simply adored the beautiful infusion of all the male harmonies that would have made Meredith Wilson proud. This musical found the true heart of Molly and a romance with will make your heart swoon. Frankly,this show doesn't just tug at your heart strings but plucks a symphony of romance, comedy, compassion and love. To put it bluntly, these exceptional performances will have you falling in love with Molly Brown over and over again! With this new breathe of life, I can confidently say that this newly remastered gem should and will travel from the majestic Rocky Mountains to the bright lights of Broadway! Highlight Numbers include Colorado, My Home, I Ain't Down Yet, The Wonderful Plan, Just Becuz, I've A'ready Started In, Belly Up to the Bar, Boys, I'll Never Say No/My Own Brass Bed, I'd Like to Change Everything About You, Cuppa Tea, I May Never Fall in Love with You, and Wait For Me.
Beth Malone is simply radiant in the title role of Molly Brown with her instant likeability and sparkling charm. Honestly Beth was born to play this scrappy and determined iconic role. Her stunning voice only further enhanced her magnetic performance especially in I Ain't Down Yet, and I May Never Fall In Love With You. Molly would not be complete without her true love, J.J. Brown. Burke Moses was perfect for this role with his dynamic performance, confident stature and gorgeous voice (that was apparent in I've A'ready Started In, The Same Little Chapel). The chemistry of these two fine actors was absolutely alluring and their voices blended together beautifully in I'll Never Say No/My Own Brass Bed, I'd Like to Change Everything About You. Whitney Bashor was simply delightful as Molly's tutor and friend, Julia Gerrard and her duet, The Wonderful Plan (with Molly) was lovely. This new character to the musical brought such warmth and compassion to the show and I loved how she had influence on Molly and vice versa (shown in the oh so funny showstopper - Cuppa Tea). The wonderful trio of Vincenzo (Constantine Germanacos), Arthur (Paolo Montalban), and Erich (David Abeles) brought humor, heart, and impressive, symphonic male harmonies (as highlighted in Just Because, I've A'ready Started In, He's My Friend) that added such a richness to almost every scene. Patty Goble was delightful as the high society snob, Louise Sneed Hill and her drinken transformation in Cuppa Tea was hilarious. Alex Finke was so adorable and the fun and sassy maid, Mimi and kept us laughing throughout.
Director and Choreographer Kathleen Marshall, fresh off the heels of the highly acclaimed Broadway Revival Anything Goes brought her expertise to this production and infused it with such wonderful warmth, love, compassion and laughter. The show had a decisive focus that it so desperately needed and that brought out a renewed energy and effortless transitions. She also brought her artistry in choreography as evident in the high-spirited numbers of Colorado, My Home, I Ain't Down Yet, and Belly Up to the Bar Boys. Ms. Marshall, along with music director by Michael Rafter made exceptional choices in casting with this diverse and sensationally talented cast and brought awesome voices to this memorable and beguiling musical. Derek McLane made sensible choices with the many locations in this show with his gorgeous scenic design that transported the audience everywhere we needed to be. I especially enjoyed the grandeur and simplicity of Molly Brown's houses from their small shack in Leadville, to their extravagant Denver mansion. Donald Holder (lighting) and Craig Breitenbach (sound) were also instrumental in enhancing this show with excellent blending both visually and melodically. Costume designer, Paul Tazewell was instrumental in creating each contrasting scene from the miners of Leadville to the high society of Denver to the downtrodden at Ellis Island.
Beautiful people of Denver....go see this amazing show and take pride in Colorado (your home) with one of the most lovable of characters! THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN is enchanting audiences now until October 26th on the Stage Theatre of the Denver Center. For tickets of more information, contact the Denver Center Ticket Services by calling 303-893-4100 or online at www.denvercenter.org.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jennifer M. Koskinen
Beth Malone as THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN
Beth Malone (center) and ensemble