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'Molly Brown' fills stage with charm, spunk

Megan Gillespie plays Molly Tobin Brown with appealing charm. Steve Ailing is Prince DeLong. They star in the musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown at the Richey Suncoast Theatre through May 29.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Megan Gillespie plays Molly Tobin Brown with appealing charm. Steve Ailing is Prince DeLong. They star in the musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown at the Richey Suncoast Theatre through May 29.

Spunky, cute and bursting with energy, diminutive Megan Gillespie sings and bounces through the title role in The Unsinkable Molly Brown with the charm and appeal of a friendly pup hoping for head pats at a backyard barbecue.

Whether it's rasslin' with her three adorably rowdy brothers Michael (Chris Cavalier), Aloysius (Carl Unkle) and Patrick (Micah Laird) near their Hannibal, Mo., backwoods cabin, crashing a hoity-toity party at the home of the snooty Mrs. McGlone (JoAnn Larson) in Denver, or captivating royalty in Monte Carlo, Ms. Gillespie's Molly never gives up.

She and a cast of more than 40 fill the Richey Suncoast Theatre stage with the Meredith Willson musical based on the life of the real Margaret Tobin Brown, the legendary hero of the sinking of the Titanic, weekends through May 29.

It's a challenging show, with eight large sets in 24 different scenes, more than 100 costumes, many of them opulent formal wear (thanks to donations by Cheri Bloom and Joy Lotito), and a few songs with rather unmelodic melody patterns.

Even so, director Marie Skelton's cast and crew pull it off nicely, never mind a few protracted scene shifts, mainly caused by the amount of time it takes the large cast to make its exits.

The story takes place from the early 1900s to mid 1912, as the financially and socially ambitious Molly leaves Hannibal to seek her fortune (in the form of a rich husband) in the gold fields of Colorado. She talks saloon owner Christmas Morgan (a hilarious Mark Lewis) into hiring her at his Saddle Rock Saloon, where she meets and marries Johnny "Leadville" Brown (Keith Surplus), who adores her from the minute he sees her.

Johnny strikes it rich — really rich — but the uncouth couple is scorned by Denver "society," whose members are just one generation from their own hick roots and don't want to be reminded from whence they came.

The Browns go to Europe, where the long-established and more confident members of royalty welcome Molly's unpretentious ways as a breath of fresh air. Eventually, Prince DeLong (Steve Ailing) proposes to Molly, who has to decide whether to stay in Europe or go back to her husband, who, uncomfortable with royalty, had long before departed for his beloved mountains in Colorado.

Despite those slow moments — blame writer Richard Morris' sometime sluggish dialogue and Willson's love of the languid ballad (perhaps made necessary by the many set changes behind the curtain) — there's plenty of spark in this show, thanks to good performances; music director Stella Gaukhshteyn's lively four-piece combo; set designer Marie Skelton's quickly changed sets; and those beautiful costumes.

Note especially gifted character actor Marc Yacht, who, as Molly's grizzled dad Shamus, makes his every scene and line of dialogue count; the plucky saloon girls (Taylor Elliott, Stephanie Kirves, Molly Laird, Alicia Peterson, Desirea Sala, Taylor Vasta); Cavalier, Unkle and Laird, who double and triple as Molly's brothers, Denver police officers, waiters and miners; many others who played several roles; and the 28 behind-the-scenes workers, including videographer Rob Mateja, who created a special film for the Titanic scene.

Still, in the end, it's Molly's show, and Ms. Gillespie's sure-handed way with her dozen numbers, including the gospel-like Are You Sure? reminiscent of Willson's Ya Got Trouble in The Music Man and done with the whole cast; wistful My Own Brass Bed; self-deluding Beautiful People of Denver; and insistent I Ain't Down Yet, bring those lagging moments back to life.

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If you go

The Unsinkable Molly Brown, a musical, weekends through May 29 at Richey Suncoast Theatre, 6237 Grand Blvd., New Port Richey. Shows are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $17 adults, $8 ages 11 and younger. Box office is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and an hour before each show. Call (727) 842-6777.

'Molly Brown' fills stage with charm, spunk 05/13/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 13, 2011 8:52pm]

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