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Off-Broadway Review: Transport Group’s “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” at Abrons Arts Center (Through Sunday April 5, 2020)

Off-Broadway Review: Transport Group’s “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” at Abrons Arts Center (Through Sunday April 5, 2020)
Music and Lyrics by Meredith Willson
Book and New Lyrics by Dick Scanlan Based on the Original Book by Richard Morris
Meredith Willson’s Music Adapted by Michael Rafter
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

It is such a treat to walk out of a theater feeling refreshed, happy, and relieved that you can still believe that there are good people in the world doing good things. Upon leaving the Abrons Arts Center after viewing a production of the updated revival of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” I was not depressed, sad, angry, or confused, which has been the case lately after attending a performance, solely due to the subject matter which in recent years has become quite despondent. This production by Transport Group not only revitalizes a good old-fashioned musical but is reminiscent of the era when audiences sat in theaters to escape hard and troubled times by listening to rousing musical numbers and uplifting stories. This is certainly a welcomed addition to the current New York theater scene that showcases a brilliant cast and creative team.

This musical was first produced on Broadway in 1960 with music and lyrics by Meredith Wilson and book by Richard Morris. It subsequently hit the big screen as a film in 1964. This is the first New York revival and is delivered with an updated book based on the original and new lyrics by Dan Scanlan which began its journey in Colorado in 2009. The result of a decade of rewrites and restructure has proven to be successful as can be seen in this present production.

The story revolves around feisty tomboy Mary Tobin in the late nineteenth century and her journey to Leadville Colorado, on her way to Denver, where she meets and marries JJ Brown who becomes part owner of a gold mine. She is a born feminist and spends much of her adult life fighting for women’s rights and being a crusader for the less fortunate and underdogs, much to her husband’s chagrin. When it comes to the point of her support for mine workers unionizing and running for a Senate position her husband draws the line and they go through and amicable separation. Now going by the nickname “Molly” which she prefers, she moves to Europe seeking sophistication. When she hears of JJ Brown falling ill, she immediately returns home booking passage on the Titanic. She was one of the few survivors of the sinking ship when she was rescued from a lifeboat by the RMS Carpathia therefore gaining her nickname “Unsinkable Molly Brown.” Upon arriving in New York, she fought for the legal immigration for some of the other survivors who had lost everything including necessary documents to enter the country from a foreign land.

Director and Choreographer Kathleen Marshall leads a talented cast making use of every corner of the small stage creating full production numbers and keeping the pace of the two-and-a-half-hour production up to speed. Although there might not be anything groundbreaking about Ms. Marshalls solid choreography it is more than enough and fits remarkably well into the structure of this old-fashioned musical. Set design by Brett J. Banakis is innovative given the confines of the theater and never seems inadequate or insubstantial. Costume designer Sky Switser hits the right mark providing colorful renditions of period costumes from the era. All this is complimented by the creative lighting design of Peter Kaczorowski.

The remarkable cast is led by powerhouse Beth Malone who invents a new Molly Brown for a new century filled with wit, fury and determination that represents the modern female of this time. Ms. Malone provides impeccable vocals and relentless energy as she plows through scene after scene infusing her character with intelligence and growth that is robust and intoxicating. David Aron Damane provides the necessary support with his interpretation of a strong yet vulnerable JJ Brown also exhibiting fine vocal ability. Whitney Bashor, Alex Gibson, Omar Lopez-Cepero and Paolo Montalban lend there are all more than competent in their supporting roles. The indefatigable ensemble playing a multitude of roles is excellent.

Although the production could be tightened up just a little it certainly does not disappoint and delivers a solid evening of entertainment that may be old fashioned when it comes to structure but also relevant dealing with issues that still ring true in our present socio-political environment. This is one production not to miss this season.

THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN

The cast of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” features Beth Malone, David Aron Damane, Whitney Bashor, Omar Lopez-Cepero, Alex Gibson (Erich), and Paolo Montalban (Arthur), Kaitlyn Davidson, Tyrone Davis, Jr., Gregg Goodbrod, Michael Halling, Karl Josef Ko, Nikka Graff Lanzarone, Kate Marilley, Shina Ann Morris, Keven Quillon, and Coco Smith.

The scenic design for “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” is by Brett Banakis; costume design is by Sky Switser, with gowns for Beth Malone by Paul Tazewell; lighting design is by Peter Kaczorowski; sound design is by Walter Trarbach; music direction is by Joey Chancey; casting is by Nora Brennan. The stage manager is Victoria Navarro.

“The Unsinkable Molly Brown” runs at Abrons Arts Center (466 Grand Street) Sunday through April 5 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices start at $65 and may be purchased by visiting www.transportgroup.org or by phoning 866-811-4111. For more information and exact performance schedule, visit www.transportgroup.org. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes including one intermission.

Photo: David Aron Damane and Beth Malone in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, February 25, 2020