The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Music and Lyrics by Meredith Willson

Book by Richard Morris 

Original Broadway run at Winter Garden Theatre – Opened November 3, 1960 (532 performances)

Originally directed by Dore Schary and choreographed by Peter Gennaro on Broadway, The Unsinkable Molly Brown is a fictionalized account of the life of Margaret Brown, who survived the sinking of the RMS Titanic, and her wealthy miner-husband. The opening Broadway cast included Tammy Grimes, Harve Presnell, and Jack Harrold. Grimes won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical. Grimes appeared in the US national tour in 1962, including Los Angeles and San Francisco in April and June 1962, respectively.

Poster for the original Broadway production of The Unsinkable Molly Brown

 

A musical film version also titled The Unsinkable Molly Brown, with screenplay by Helen Deutsch, was released in 1964. Presnell reprised his stage role for the 1964 film, also titled The Unsinkable Molly Brown starring Debbie Reynolds. The two starred in a 1989-1990 national tour.  The first West End production, with Abi Finley and Sean Pol McGreevy in the leading roles, opened in May 2009.

Molly Brown rises from a rag-a-muffin tomboy in a tumbledown shanty to become an international heroine. Upon leaving her Irish father’s side she storms the Colorado countryside in search of money and success. In her travels she meets, and later marries, Leadville Johnny Brown who soon discovers one of the largest silver mines in the United States. Now rich, Molly tries to besiege the Denver social register. Set back in her attempts, she decides that she and Johnny need the cultures of Europe. In Europe, Molly thrives on her cultural opportunities. However, Johnny feels out of place and dreams only of the pleasures of Colorado. Eventually even his undying love for his wife is not enough to keep him in Europe and he persuades Molly that they must return home. 

Harve Presnell and Tammy Grimes

 

Molly accepts but invites several of her royal friends to come socialize with her in Denver. Her dreams of leadership of the Denver 400 soon fade as her royal coming-out party is turned into a free-for-all brawl by some of Johnny’s friends. Ultimately defeated, Molly returns to Europe, leaving Johnny behind. After achieving social boredom in a lonely year with royal society, she sails for home on the ill-fated Titanic. 

Original Movie Poster

 

When the ship is sunk at sea, Molly leads a lifeboat of survivors to safety – a superhuman feat inspired by her longing to return home to Johnny. Her heroism wins the admiration of the society that had spurned her.

In 2020, a revival of The Unsinkable Molly Brown opened Off-Broadway starring Beth Malone in the title role.  Produced by Transport Group, this revitalized version featured a completely new book, written by Dick Scanlan (who also provided new lyrics to selected music by Meredith Willson).  This new musical tale of Molly Brown featured the well-known character and beloved songs from the original musical (plus new lyrics by Scanlan to selected other songs from the Willson catalog) but a new and true story. It presented Molly as she really was: vibrant, progressive, and ready to fight for the underdog as a champion of women’s rights, labor rights, and immigration reform.  The production enjoyed many positive reviews and a successful, extended run.

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