Long before Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin was born, a gal from Missouri was shattering glass ceilings of her own.
Molly Brown, the child of Irish immigrants, married a lucky gold prospector in 1886 and came into money. But it was her unlikely survival of the Titanic disaster in 1912 that made her famous.
Her life, spunk and independent determination come alive in the musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown, which opens Oct. 3 at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre.
"It's a classic Broadway musical," said Matthew McGee, Show Palace artistic director, who also directs the show.
Aside from last year's production at the Francis Wilson Playhouse in Clearwater, the musical hasn't been performed much in the Tampa Bay region.
"Theaters have a tendency to see it as kind of dusty," said McGee. "But it's going to be a fully realized performance."
Playwright Meredith Willson is perhaps better known for penning the 1957 Broadway smash The Music Man. But it was his Molly Brown character — immortalized by Debbie Reynolds in the 1964 movie version of the musical, and reprised with gusto by Kathy Bates in the 1997 hit movie Titanic — that may be his most memorable creation.
Molly Brown proved to be unsinkable even before the Titanic disaster. After her husband struck it rich, the uneducated but determined Molly struggled to find acceptance among Denver's upper crust. The play takes her to Europe, where she wins a spot in high society but loses the heart of her husband, Johnny. She is journeying back to America to be with him when the Titanic hits the iceberg.
For the Show Palace Theatre version, local favorite Katie Kerwin plays the title role. She played Annie Oakley in the Show Palace's 2003 production of Annie Get Your Gun and performed nationally in 2005 in White Christmas.
"I needed someone with a lot of energy and spunk. She's like Debbie Reynolds," said McGee.
W.C. Green plays Johnny Brown.
"He has worked all over the nation," said McGee. "He's a great leading man, a great baritone."
Popular songs performed by Kerwin and Green in the show include Belly Up to the Bar, Boys and I'll Never Say No to You.
Shows at the Show Palace Diner Theatre are produced in a matter of weeks, McGee said. From sewing each stitch of costume to creating sets, powerful women and a few strong men help pull it all together in time for opening night.
So perhaps it's appropriate that this show focuses on Molly Brown, one of America's original leading ladies.
"It says a lot about the times we're in, with women making history," said McGee. "She's a woman that all women can look up to."