Egan plays the title character and Christopher Carl is "Leadville" Johnny Brown in the Music Circus production of "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," being staged in the tent through Sunday.

Steve Kolb

Theater: 'Unsinkable' buoyed by wonderful lead perfomance


By William Glackin -- Bee Critic at Large
Published 2:15 a.m. PDT Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Many Americans seem to think of themselves as unusually independent people. Actually, judging by a classic Icelandic novel called "Independent People," the farmers of that northern land might have them beat. But it doesn't really matter now: As of Monday night at the Sacramento Music Circus, actress Susan Egan made "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" into an irresistible definition of the quality.

There is a lot to enjoy in this production for a lot of different reasons, including by all means the work of director Marcia Milgrom Dodge. But Egan is so wonderful you want to take her home.

A lot of the show is boisterous, and Dodge starts a knock-down-and-drag-all-over fight right away between Molly and her feisty brothers that proves Egan can more than hold her own.

But that's only one of the secrets to Egan's charm. The major revelations come when the story kicks in for real and the singing starts for the best of Meredith Willson's songs. Egan the singing actress is better than Egan the wrestler. She makes you feel there's a real, true person up there on the stage, so real, so brimming with intelligence and tenderness that she seems of tremendous value.

To experience this revelation, you need only to go to the show, which is running through Sunday in the tent at 1419 H St., and watch her carefully. It is easy to do, because she is fun to watch. But the most revealing time is not so much when her role gives her the lines or the songs, but even more when someone is singing or speaking to her. She is one of those actresses who can advance the story by merely listening. Merely! The things she is telling you the while!

it would be grossly unfair if you got the idea from these statements that there isn't a lot of other good work in the production. The control Dodge exercises in matters of character and consistency in the storytelling is of central importance. And clearly the show is full of other good performances, as major as Christopher Carl (a convincing, fine big voice) as "Leadville" Johnny Brown, whose extraordinary luck at mining precious metal gives Molly the privilege of being independent.

The production features good secondary performances as well: Michael Mandell, simply perfect as the big saloonkeeper; Elizabeth Ward Land as the cool, nice French princess who appreciates Molly's honesty; Damon Kirsche, who sings well as the prince who wants steal Molly; and Cynthia Sophiea, as Denver's social leader, Mrs. McGlone, more tough than mean, not deserving Molly's relentless yen for revenge.

Not to mention Bob Richard, the choreographer who designed those quick little dance numbers for eight that the dancers did so crisply and well. Or Michael Schweikardt's scenic pieces, which worked so appropriately. Or the strong, lively work of Valerie Gebert and her musicians, or Richard Morris' genuinely humorous libretto.

As he did in "The Music Man," Willson wrote his own lyrics. "Molly Brown" is not as miraculous as "The Music Man," but it has a surprising number of appealingly serviceable numbers, including "Dolce Far Niente" as well as "Belly Up to the Bar, Boys," and the chorus sings "Happy Birthday, Mrs. J.J. Brown" with such excellence it is startling.

You never really believe Molly will let her separation from Johnny stick - she's too smart, thanks to Egan, ever to do that - but you accept that she survives the sinking of the Titanic; after all, somebody did. And not even Egan could have saved the Titanic.

The Unsinkable Molly Brown

* * * 1/2

The Sacramento Music Circus production of the musical by Meredith Willson and Richard Morris is playing at 8 p.m. today through Saturday, and at 7:30 p.m. Sunday in the tent at 1419 H St. $27-$45. (916) 766-2277.

As Molly Brown, Susan Egan plays a courageous, combative character whose exploits include surviving the Titanic's sinking.

Steve Kolb