My mom and I are fans of musicals, from way back. So my brother bought her tickets to opening night of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.
I confess that “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” has never been my favorite musical, despite its local connections. Molly Brown lived in Denver— I went to her home as a field trip over and over while I was in school. Every local kid is taught about how she came from nothing, when she and her husband struck it rich, she was rejected by Denver society of the day (nouveau riche) but went on to be something special, and is known for surviving the sinking of the Titanic and helping others stay calm and make it through that experience.
They’ve changed it for this production, though. It’s been so long since I saw the original, I can’t be specific about how it was changed, but I can tell you that in this production, and maybe it’s just because it’s the right thing at the right time for me, I found myself a hero.
So if you go from nowhere
On the road to somewhere
And you meet anyone
You know it’s me. -“Ain’t Down Yet”
In this production, you see that before Molly had the right to vote, she ran for Congress, twice. She started soup kitchens and relief efforts in Leadville and Denver. Her husband, J.J. Brown, ran a mine, and she helped the workers organize a union, much to his dismay.
Beth Malone, who played Molly was amazing. It’s hard to know if she’s just a natural fit for the role or whether she just gets Molly, but she’s every inch indomitable, irrepressible, infectious. Her voice is beyond strong, and her characterization was flawless.
Burke Moses, who played J.J. Brown, was almost as good. With a voice like some of my Rodgers and Hammerstein favorites— Gordon McRae, among others— and a look that screamed of authenticity, I could see why a man like him would be drawn to a firebrand like Molly at a time when women didn’t defy convention the way she did, and why he’d be as powerfully challenged as he ultimately was by her. He performed barbershop ballads to sweeping big musical numbers with finesse and honesty.
The entire cast was great— staging was minimal, but well executed— the music was good, the dialogue strong, the dancing delightful, and the crisis legitimate and well-portrayed.
I’m grateful for an evening’s entertainment (against the odds— we overcame a flat tire that I changed [ultimately with a lot of help from a kind stranger] in a dress and heels; and a dinner at a nice restaurant that took 40 minutes to reach us, and came too late for us to eat it; and my conversation with the manager about why I didn’t intend to pay for it under the circumstances…) But I think I’m even more grateful for the role model it gave me, and the better understanding of a local girl who beat the odds to be who she was without apology.