'Unsinkable Molly Brown' needs oomph

Nancy Welliver, Special to the HeraldMarch 22, 2013 

Every theater fan in the Tri-Cities has probably faced a show that is sung and acted well but has little oomph. One wonders why so much time and energy were expended on a play that is outdated and not all that well written in the first place. The Mid-Columbia Musical Theater's current offering, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, is such a production.

This play, which was written in the early 1960s, is a Cinderella story. Poor girl meets likable fellow who strikes it rich. Nouveau riche girl badly wants to be accepted by those who have shunned her. There isn't much more to the plot than that.

The first half of the musical is engaging, with the lovely Katie Diana Collins playing young Molly. She starts the show with marvelous energy, managing to sing the show's theme song I Ain't Down Yet while vigorously fighting off three boisterous brothers.

By the next scene, she has transformed into a young woman, played by Katrina Carlson. Carlson is wonderful in the role and steals most of the rest of the show with her cheeky energy and beautiful mannerisms. The Colorado bar scene where Molly meets Johnny "Leadville" Brown for the first time is delightful and offers some of the night's biggest laughs.

Sam Purvine, playing Johnny, weaves his own magic on the crowd by pouring out ballads in his warm, pure voice. His gracious, easy humor is a perfect counterpoint to Carlson's hyperactive Molly. Her princely admirer, charmingly played by Chuck Wojnowski, also has a beautiful voice and an airy demeanor.

The costumes are bright and fun with satin corsets, feathers, ruffles, top hats and tails, and all manner of tailored frivolity are well-represented on the stage. One enjoyable touch is Molly's series of red and gold costumes in keeping with her theme song, in which these colors are prominently mentioned.

A nicely painted Rocky Mountain scene is the backdrop for a series of bars, cabins, and mansions. The stage crew seamlessly moves the scenery as the orchestra plays interludes between scenes. However, one does wonder why the Rocky Mountains remain in the background while the characters dance in a Monte Carlo salon.

But that's about all there is to it, folks. The plot fizzles after Molly and Johnny decide to abandon Colorado for Europe halfway through the play. The play never mentions some of the real Molly Brown's more interesting characteristics such as her tireless activism for women's rights. It never elucidates Johnny's character at all. The music is catchy and fun, and the orchestra knocks it out reasonably well. But by the end of the play, the driving energy that was so sparkling and promising in the beginning has run out of gas.

An opening night performance, which is what this review is based on, tends to have all sorts of things go wrong. The auditorium and its equipment are often not available for sufficient rehearsal time. The cast and crew and musicians have perhaps not had enough time together to jell. Hopefully the low spots in the performance will get worked out over time. The actors, singers and musicians involved in this production are talented and devoted enough to give even a badly dated play such as this one a good run for the money.

*Nancy Welliver is a longtime supporter of the arts. She has worked at Hanford as an engineer and is a member of the Camerata Musica organization.

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