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.
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.