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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Hale Centre Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent reviews of Into the Woods, A Chorus Line and The Gazebo

Matthew Dodaro and Michala Montaño
Photo by Nick Woodward-Shaw
The Unsinkable Molly Brown was Meredith Willson's follow-up to his smash hit show The Music Man. Based on the actual Margaret Brown, who lived from 1867-1932 and who is probably best known today for surviving the sinking of the Titanic, the musical didn't hit the same heights as Willson's previous show. While the plot is very simple and the score mostly forgettable, it does have a spunky title character and some charming numbers. Hale Centre Theatre's production has two fantastic leads in Michala Montaño and Matthew Dodaro as Molly and her husband Johnny Brown, delightful direction, and fun choreography that result in a solid production of this rarely produced musical.

The musical centers entirely on Molly, an idealistic young woman who has a joy for life and an unbreakable spirit. The plot begins when she is the young Molly Tobin, the shoeless, spirited, uneducated only daughter of an Irish immigrant who decides to make her way to the small mining town of Leadville, Colorado. There she meets Johnny Brown, a prospector who convinces Molly to marry him just as his luck with finding gold pans out, making them a fortune. Molly sets her sights on becoming educated and a member of Denver's high society but finds her folksy, rough ways are looked down upon by the Denver elite. That doesn't keep the unstoppable and unsinkable Molly down.

The score by Meredith Willson is fine, but nowhere near the level of his work on The Music Man. Richard Morris' book is choppy with a very simple plot and minimal time centered on the supporting characters.

Fortunately, Hale's cast, direction, and choreography are wonderful. Michala Montaño is fantastic as the lovable, outgoing dynamo, Molly. When we first meet Molly wrestling with her brothers, Montaño is an entirely believable tomboy. As the plot moves forward and Molly grows older and finds her way in the world, Montaño also grows up in front of us, but she never loses the character's sass, spunk, spirit and determination, even when things don't go her way. There is also always a warmth beneath her outrageous and outsized personality, and Montaño's singing voice is bold, brassy, and simply lovely.

As Johnny, Matthew Dodaro's singing voice is clear and strong and soars on his many solos. Dodaro instills Johnny with an amiable and sweet personality and, like Montaño's Molly, a strong joy of life. Johnny is basically a simple man who doesn't need the big city life of Denver like Molly does and is perfectly fine living in the small town of Leadville. Dodaro helps us see that Johnny's wealth hasn't changed his ways or his love for Molly. He and Montaño create a believable couple.

In supporting roles, Adam Guinn has a fun Irish brogue and a charming wink in his eye as Molly's father, Shamus Tobin; understudy Ray Barcelo, who was on for the bar owner Christmas Morgan at the performance I attended, is charming, warm, and fun. Kathleen Richards is appropriately condescending and uppity as Mrs. McGlone, a member of the Denver elite who doesn't approve of Molly. As the Princess and Prince Delong, whom Molly befriends when she goes to Europe, Krista Monaghan and Reece Harris bring a lovely sense of regal elegance to the production, with Harris' singing voice quite lovely. The hardworking ensemble do wonderful work playing a range of characters from the bar patrons in Leadville to the Denver elite and the royals of Europe.

Director Cambrian James does what he can to breathe some life into the stale book, and his choreography is bright, varied, and danced well by the cast. Tia Hawkes's costumes are gorgeous, including several lovely red outfits and gowns for Montaño. The sets by McKenna Carpenter are fairly simple but work fine, and Tim Dietlein's lighting adds some lovely touches, especially in the nighttime scenes. Lincoln Wright's music direction delivers warm vocals from the cast.

Since the musical is a highly fictionalized take on the real woman, you probably won't leave with any clear insight into what the real Molly Brown was like, but with fantastic leads, a great ensemble, and winning direction and choreography, you'll definitely be entertained by Hale Centre Theatre's production.

The Unsinkable Molly Brown runs through May 13, 2023, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 480-497-1181

Producers and Casting Directors: David and Corrin Dietlein Director: Cambrian James
Choreographer: Cambrian James
Music Director: Lincoln Wright
Costume Designer: Tia Hawkes
Lighting Designer: Tim Dietlein
Scenic Designer and Prop Master: McKenna Carpenter
Sound Designer: Jackson Zyontz
Projection Designer: Boyd Cluff
Head of Carpentry: Kyle Webb
Carpenters: Michael Pratt and Michael Renteria
Costume Stitchers: Toni Anne Smith, Kerry Deco and Molly Hill
Prop and Set Painting Assistants: Brittany Arwine, Liz de la Torre, and Mikel Waszczak
Wigs and Makeup: Cambrian James
Stage Manager: Iliana Swartz
Audio Engineer: Jackson Zyontz
Assistant Stage Managers: Trevor Leavitt, Aubrey Riggs and Abby Hawel

Molly Tobin: Michala Montaño
Johnny "Leadville" Brown: Matthew Dodaro
Shamus Tobin: Adam Guinn
Christmas Morgan: Ray Barcelo
Mrs. McGlone: Kathleen Richards
Monsignor Ryan: Jim Roehr
Roberts: Gary Pimentel
Princess Delong: Krista Monaghan
Prince Delong: Reece Harris
Ensemble: Gillian Elliott
Ensemble: Karsten Flake
Ensemble: Shaylee Flanagan
Ensemble: Brie Wadsworth-Gates
Ensemble: Sophia Castelluccio
Ensemble: Diana Stapley
Ensemble: Liz Roehr
Ensemble: Noah Delgado
Ensemble: William Lovell
Ensemble: Mckay Moody
Ensemble: Jacob Currie
Ensemble: Truman Regard-Whipple
Ensemble: Joshua South
Ensemble: Bennett Allen Wood