“The Unsinkable Molly Brown” – Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ January 21, 2010


Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre
Mesa, AZ

Molly Brown was an illiterate hellion but she knew she didn’t want to be poor all her life. On her way to Denver, she ran into Leadville Johnny Brown, a lucky miner, who filled her pockets with money. But it took Europe to really tame her but her rough upbringing made her a Titanic survivor. She’s the spunky central character of Meredith Willson’s raucous “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” now at Mesa’s Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre.

Unfortunately, Lisa LeCuyer’s one-dimensional Molly never lets audiences see the remarkable character she became. LeCuyer is always the backwoods waif; she never evolves into the haughty grande dame Molly became. LeCuyer never lets her Molly change, grow, or develop. She also tries to be the dynamic central focus of this musical but she hasn’t the snappy personality to cut it. Without the right Molly, the show’s many cracks and crevices show glaringly.

The long musical has been trimmed mightily by director M. Seth Reines so the big songs are retained but the story moves forward awkwardly often making it difficult to tell what’s happened since the last scene. The story isn’t that complex so you eventually figure out where you’re at in Molly’s fast-paced and international life.

After his triumphant “The Music Man,” Willson was never able to construct a winning musical so his later shows, including “Molly Brown,” aren’t as good. Too much in “Molly Brown” relies on the title character so secondary plots in this truncated version breeze by almost unnoticed as it focuses solely on Molly and her shenanigans. It’s the downfall of Richard Morris’ weak libretto. Willson did create two haunting ballads for Leadville and Molly has several boisterous production numbers. The big songs register well because of musical director JR McAlexander’s throbbingly upbeat synthesizer orchestrations augmented by his four person band and a lusty chorus.

LeCuyer isn’t the show’s only weak lead. Jonathan Grunert’s a tall, lanky guy who doesn’t look like the sturdy Leadville. His singing sometimes has the requisite big lively sound but he also hits several noticeably sour notes throughout his performance. He allows Johnny, a strong dominant character, to fade into the background which negates the territorial battle between him and Molly. An ill-fitting, contemporary looking suit doesn’t help his appearance.

Elizabeth Loos’ richly snobby Mrs. McGlone, a grand, first generation Denver society leader who snubs Molly, is the production’s highlight.

The show is framed in a unit set that serves best as Molly Brown’s Denver mansion so rustic settings and the lifeboat scene look out-of-place.

The Broadway Palm’s “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” lacks the show’s gutsy appeal and the right leads. It continues through February 20. For tickets, call the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre box office at 480-325-6700 or order online at www.broadwaypalmwest.com.

Grade: D