“We had more fun at the Saddle Rock by accident than they’re having in there on purpose,” Johnny tells Molly in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” contrasting good times with his pals at a saloon to a stuffy society dinner.
The same comparison can be made of Ten Thousand Things’ rollicking revival of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” — the first musical the troupe ever put on, 15 years ago — and more formal, high-minded thea-tah. What it lacks in sophisticated staging and pricey props, it more than makes up for with genuine talent and unbridled enthusiasm.
Meredith Willson loosely based his 1960 musical on socialite philanthropist Margaret Brown, who survived the sinking of the Titanic. Having lived a rags-to-riches story herself, the real Brown probably would appreciate Ten Thousand Things director Michelle Hensley’s bare-bones approach to the material.
Molly Tobin was “born in a cyclone,” and Maggie Chestovich plays her like that, an elfin ragamuffin barreling her way from Missouri to Colorado’s gold-rush frontier. There she meets “Leadville” Johnny Brown (Tyson Forbes, as dashing a hayseed swain as ever bellied up to a bar), whose knack for finding silver and gold leads the couple first to Denver’s posh Pennsylvania Avenue, then to hobnobbing with European royalty.
As Molly wrestles with her love-or-money dilemma, freewheeling antics are enough to keep things hopping. But inventive colloquialisms take it over the top: “You’re mean enough to hunt bear with a stick.” “Can these beautiful people be put together with the same spit and string we are?”
The six other actors in the cast take on 28 supporting and bit roles. Particularly amusing are H. Adam Harris as barkeep Christmas, Kimberly Richardson as snooty Mrs. McGlone and Max Wojtanowicz as a priggish butler.
The clever “set” consists entirely of miniature furniture and other props affixed to ultra-mobile metal stands that are switched and whisked around in seconds. Music director Peter Vitale is a one-man band, strumming a banjo, plinking on a toy piano and beating on drums, with an occasional trombone assist from Wojtanowicz.
A significant part of Ten Thousand Things’ mission is to bring free performances to low-income groups. The packed house where I saw the show was made up mostly of North African, Southeast Asian and Latino immigrants. Some had a limited grasp of English but no trouble following the plot. During one poignant moment, Johnny lifted Molly off the ground for a bear hug of an embrace. The heads of a dozen women of several different nationalities tilted to one side, slight smiles creasing their faces.
Seems the language of love truly is universal.