Titanic hero claims victory at Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre

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By Bob Evans

She ain’t down yet, folks, because audiences want to revisit the musical-comedy story of Molly Brown as she rises from he humble Hannibal, Missouri roots to earn a spot among Denver society, no matter the trials and pitfalls along the way.

The Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre revived this dusty Meredith Wilson classic with its gritty lead character, Molly Brown, to show both the strength and goodness of the human heart. “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” charms and captivates the audience with is tuneful score, lively music, and in this production, outstanding performances by Molly Brown and Leadville Johnny Brown.

“The Unsinkable Molly Brown is the rags-to-riches love story of Molly and Leadville Johnny Brown, owners of the richest mine in the U.S. at the turn of the twentieth century,” a MET spokesman said.. “A comedic, yet honest, commentary on the classes and the human spirit of the Colorado settlers, this grand musical is a tour de force with rousing and sentimental songs, as well as dances that are reminiscent of the times.”

Brought to life in this new reincarnation, leads Morgan Dayley and Christopher Sanders devour the stage with their in-your-face characterizations of these larger-than-life characters. Dayley as the tough-spirited, bull-headed, Molly Brown gives the character the grit to establish her in the opening scene and song. As fitting, a super-dominant male needs to tame Molly’s spirit, so Sanders’ Johnny Brown equally fights for stage presence in all of his scenes. Both actors use their best vocals for the Meredith Wilson score.

After “The Music Man,” what could Wilson produce? Well, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” confirmed his status as a bankable Broadway composer and lyricist. The music in “Molly Brown” is intricate, tuneful, playful, heart-warming, and upbeat. The orchestration provided by musical director Loren Bridge elevated the strong performances in the show. Molly and Johnny perform most of the songs, so their performances are pinnacle to the success of the show.

The story follows Molly Brown from her young teenage years as she fights with her brothers and swears she wants upward mobility, but the problem lies in that her fast rise to the top does not slow down enough to learn social graces, etiquette, or decorum. Molly can not read or write, has only seen the sights of Hannibal, Missouri, but deep down in her heart, she knows Denver is where she wants to live. Her solo journey leads her to the Colorado hills, but short of her destination. While in Leadville, she meets and falls in love with Johnny Brown who promises her the world and plans to deliver it. His plans come true and Molly finds she has money to burn.

The problem lies in Molly’s vision of happiness and success. That need for success drives the story. No matter what Johnny gives her, Molly’s hunger for more drives her to make poor choices and lose her way. Johnny remains strong and steadfast, hopelessly in love with Molly, only to begin losing himself to please his success-obsessed wife.
The sweet, charming, comic musical give insight into Molly Brown, but, more than likely, the author took some giant leaps away from the truth to create interest, strong characters, and a cast to support the two dominant personalities of Molly and Johnny.

The MET did a great job of creating “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” in its new space, still under reconstruction. An emergency move did slow down the season while performance space was redesigned, a lobby created, and rest rooms brought up to code. Still, the season ending musical always brings sold out houses for the MET. “Molly Brown” continues that tradition.

With the theatre not fully realized and practiced, some technical glitches do occur. The sound was not correctly balanced for Act I on the day of the review. By Act II, the sound was strong. The arrangement of the performance area changes with each production, so sound and lighting need reset. Matinees will have difficulty with night scenes with so much light from storefront windows, but in good time these will all be addressed, targeted, and fixed. By next season, the MET should change by leaps and bounds as the renovation continues. Still, expect the MET to produce solid work. Technical problems get resolved and strong acting takes audiences into the shows quickly, and once the show begins, outside distractions melt away.

Director Karen Paisley always casts great talent for her shows. The season-ending musicals always perform to sold out houses, and are always worthy of an extended run. With the move to the former Warwick Theatre, seating remains tight while the renovation continues. Still with limited space and seating Paisley created a strong acting ensemble.

The cast is: Morgan Dayley, Christopher Sanders, Chad Burris, Brad Dowdy, Kristen K. Alley, Ray Ettinger, Korrie Murphy, Timothy Michael Houston, Mason Hoyt, Matthew Emerick, Whittaker Hoar, Dr. David Pendergrass, Tony Beasley, Angela Murphy, Katherine Bettis, Korrie Murphy, Nicholas Perry, Reese Betts, Sarah DaMetz, Nicholas Perry, Micayla Miller, Alex Paxton, Robin Carroll-Dolci, Paul Hindemith.

The orchestra is: Loren Bridges, conductor/piano; Tarquin Kellough, percussion; Ben Byard, bass; Chacko Finn, trombone; Ron Minot, clarinet; Dana Wagoner, strings and piano II; Will Peak, bass clarinet; Laura Zitelli, clarinet; Barbara Hamilton, flute; David Cunningham, trumpet; Cody Young, trumpet; David McIntire, baritone saxophone.

The production staff is: Sonia Jacobson, Michelle Cowls, stage managers; Karen Paisley, set design; Maxwell Frederick, John Story, sound construction; Kristen Covell, assistant stage manager; Susan Proctor, costume design; Marc Manley, properties master; John Holland, wig design; Jacob Bothell, master electrician; Jacob Bothell, Karen Paisley, lighting design; Morgan Dayley, Karen Paisley, choreography. Stage crew: Jacob Bothel, Bob Paisley, Ken Brustad, Barrie Smith, Alex Paxton, Robin Carroll-Dolci, Susan Proctor, John Story, Maxwell Frederickson, Patrick Maasen, Doug Connett, Sarah

“The Unsinkable Molly Brown” opened June 14 and runs through June 24 at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre’s new home, the former Warwick Theatre at 40th and Main, Kansas City, Missouri. Tickets may be secured by calling the box office at 816.569.3226 or online through the MET website. www.metkc.org

Tags: “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”, Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment

Images courtesy of Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre and Bob Paisley/Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre

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