I had never seen the 1960 musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown (with music and lyrics by Meredith Wilson, who also wrote The Music Man, which happens to be TTT's last musical), nor heard any of the music. The only thing I knew about Molly Brown is that she was on the Titanic (remember Kathy Bates in the movie?). But now she's my new hero. Or at least, this fictionalized version of her as played by the indomitable Maggie Chestovich. I'm not sure how much of it is Molly and how much of it is Maggie, but this character has so much spirit, determination, and hope wrapped up in a tiny package. She wants a better life for her and her pa, and she goes out and gets it. From humble beginnings in Missouri, she decides to move to the big city of Denver, stopping at the mining town of Leadville to earn some money as a waitress and singer. There she meets Johnny Brown (Tyson Forbes, tall and lanky with plenty of aw-shucks charm), who eventually woos her with the promise of riches as well as happiness. He delivers on both, but eventually it becomes obvious that they want different things in life. Johnny wants a simple life in Leadville with his friends, while Molly longs for riches and high society. It drives them apart, but Molly is a woman who doesn't stay down for long and always gets what she wants. And after she survives the great disaster, she decides she wants Johnny.
|Johnny and Molly Brown (Tyson Forbes and
Maggie Chestovich, photo by Paula Keller)
Perhaps I should mention, for those of you unfamiliar with Ten Thousand Things (seriously, where have you been?), that in addition to paid performances at Open Book and other locations, they routinely tour their shows to prisons, homeless shelters, and community centers in the area. This requires them to travel light, literally and figuratively. Performances are in a small fully lit room with just a few rows of chairs creating a square on the floor where the magic happens. Actors look you in the eye from just a few feet away, or brush past your knees with swaying skirts, creating an intimacy and connection between audience and cast unlike any other. Set pieces are minimal and easily transportable, leading to some wonderfully creative choices. In this case, that means tiny furniture mounted on wavy poles, which the actors adorably lay a finger on to represent sitting. Costumes must also be minimal and easily transitioned between, and for this show range from drab rural clothing, to fashionably black, to European gold, and of course, Molly's red silk dress. (Sets by Stephen Mohring and costumes by Sonya Berlovitz.)
I'm quite certain that The Unsinkable Molly Brown is ruined for me as a musical now. If I ever see the typical full production of it, I might not even recognize it. But if I did, I'm sure it would pale in comparison to this sparsely lovely version that, like all TTT shows, strips away the unnecessary and serves us up a simple, unadorned, beautifully true story. See it for yourself - performances continue through March 8.
This article also appears on Broadway World Minneapolis.