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A CurtainUp Review
The Unsinkable Molly Brown
. The Unsinkable Molly Brown followed Wilson's 1957 Broadway hit, The Music Man, for which he also wrote the book. But while The Music Man ran for 1,275 performances and won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical (triumphing over West Side Story), The Unsinkable Molly Brown ran for 532 performances, with only Tammy Grimes winning a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.
.. The musical has never been revived on Broadway, but this season, the always innovative Transport Group is staging a new version of the show, directed and choregraphed by Kathleen Marshall, with a new book and new lyrics by Dick Scanlan. Perhaps, as we have seen with Oklahoma! and West Side Story, this is an Unsinkable Molly Brown for the 21st century.
.. Molly now is not only a socialite and philanthropist. She is also an activist and a feminist. It is this, along with J.J.'s infidelity, rather than jealousy, that breaks up her marriage to J.J. Brown, whose wealth allowed her to leave the mines of Leadville for Denver high society.
.. The show features the effervescent Beth Malone as the title character. Malone is totally likable as the idealistic, ambitious Molly who wants to be accepted by the upper crust, even while she does her best to make sure the poor get more than a few crumbs. Her singing and dancing are superb. I especially enjoyed her cartwheel.
0 The supporting cast and ensemble are uniformly exemplary. Omar Lopez-Cepero plays the Italian miner, Vincenzo, with great ardor and sings with an operatic voice. Paula Leggett is excellent as the snooty Louise Sneed-Hill and also a down-to-earth barmaid.
. .David Aron Damane does not make J.J. Brown worthy of Molly. Damane has a fine voice, but he lacks charm and conviction. Often, he seems downright petulant. It's hard to understand what a woman like Molly sees in him.
Certainly, the greatest kudos go to Marshall, who keeps the show bouncing along in a manner worthy of a woman who refused to drown. Her choreography is both inventive and period appropriate. "Belly Up to the Bar, Boys" is a standout.
. When we consider the major themes of this The Unsinkable Molly Brown, — the plight of the poor, the snobbery and insouciance of the rich, our historic unwillingness to welcome immigrants (even when they are refugees) — it's obvious Scanlan is trying to make the show resonate in a way it never did over half a century ago.
When Molly tells the Immigration Officer that the Statue of Liberty is his boss and Molly and the ensemble sing "Share the Luck," we all know the year is not 1913. It's 2020. And Molly is speaking to all of us.
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The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Music and lyrics by Meredith Wilson with additional songs from his catalog, and a new book, based on the original book by Richard Morris, and new lyrics by Tony Award nominee Dick Scanlan. Meredith Wilson's music adapted by Michael Rafter
Directed by Kathleen Marshall
Cast: Beth Malone (Molly Brown); David Aron Damane (J.J. Brown); Whitney Bashor (Julia); Alex Gibson (Erich); Omar Lopez-Cepero (Vincenzo); Paolo Montalban (Arthur); Paula Leggett Chase (Louise Sneed-Hill & others); Karl Josef Co ((Hichens & others); Kaitlyn Davidson (Maureen & others); Tyrone Davis, Jr. (Larry & others); Gregg Goodbrod (Father Robinson, Kenneth B. Chapman & others); Nikka Graff Lanzarone (Baby Doe Tabor & others); Michael Halling (Horace Tabr & others); Shina Ann Morris (Maud & others); Keven Quillon (William & others); Coco Smith (Mary Nevin & others)
Set Design: Brett J. Banakis
Costume Design: Sky Switser
Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowsski
Sound Design: Walter Trarbach
Music Director: Joey Chancey
Production Stage Manager: Victoria Navarro
Run Time: Approximately 150 minutes, including a 15 minute intermission
Transport Group at Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand Street (F to Delancey Street; J or M to Essex Street; D or B to Grand Street)
From 2/08/20; opening 2/26/20/ closing 3/22/20
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Feb. 27, 2020
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