EXCLUSIVE: TALKING ‘THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN’ WITH STAR BETH MALONE

Beth Malone

Beth MaloneBeth Malone is preparing to become unsinkable.

Best known for her Tony-nominated star turn as Alison Bechdel in Fun Home, Malone will next be seen as the titular character in an all-new, revitalized off-Broadway production of The Unsinkable Molly Brown. The classic musical is getting a total contemporary makeover and promises to introduce audiences to Molly as she really was.

Ahead of the show’s February opening, Malone told me all about this bold and exciting production, transforming into a historic icon, the upcoming film adaptation of Fun Home, and more.

ALEX KELLEHER-NAGORSKI: This revival of The Unsinkable Molly Brown features a new book by Richard Morris, additional songs from Meredith Wilson’s catalog, and new lyrics by Dick Scanlan. How do these refreshes enhance the show for a contemporary audience?

BETH MALONE: This new revival features a page one re-write of the script by Dick Scanlan and a shared lyric credit between Dick and Meredith Wilson. As you can imagine, it is an entirely different experience from watching the old version because is a different set of characters and circumstances! Modern audiences are treated to a fully fleshed out Molly and a journey that takes in many facts from her extraordinary life.

What has your research/preparation process for becoming Molly Brown consisted of? What are some of the most informative and/or surprising things you learned about her that have informed your portrayal?

Being from Colorado myself, the lore of Molly Brown swirled around my formative years but I never really researched the enigmatic real life Margaret Tobin Brown until I started working on the show (much in the same way as I learned as much as I could about Alison Bechdel for Fun Home, with the exception that Alison is alive). Luckily, Margaret left behind a lot of clues to who she was and what she cared deeply about.  

The thing about her that I’ve had to really contemplate is the fact that she was devoutly Catholic to the point where one of her crowning achievements was helping fund the building of a massive cathedral in Denver. Margaret did so much good in her 65 years on earth, from soup kitchens to starting a homeless shelter for unwanted dogs and cats to reimagining the criminal justice system. Learning Molly was deeply religious has allowed me to recognize the good religion can do when it isn’t politicized. She was a person who truly lived “What Would Jesus Do?”

The Unsinkable Molly BrownMany people’s idea of who Molly Brown was is shaped by Kathy Bates’ portrayal of her in the film Titanic. In your opinion, who was the real Molly Brown and why is she such an important and inspirational figure in American history? 

The really Molly Brown was complicated, just as we all are. She wasn’t simply good or bad. She was tough! She didn’t settle for the limitations put on women at the time so she was often thought to be a bitch. But as a person, if you really knew her, she was a loyal friend, a good mother and an equal partner in her marriage. She just wanted things deeply. She wanted to learn, and do and see. And when she came across injustice, she wanted to fix.

This production of the show will mark its off-Broadway debut, as well as the first time the show has been staged in New York since its Broadway premiere in 1960. Why is now the perfect time with which to reintroduce audiences to The Unsinkable Molly Brown?

This is the perfect timing for this show, socially and politically because the central message is “We Ain’t Down Yet.” And we really need to remember that right now! We cannot say uncle.

What makes Kathleen Marshall the perfect director to bring this new adaptation of the show to life?

Kathleen has a great gift for staging classics musicals. With Molly straddling two worlds—a revival and a page one revision—Kathleen is the perfect person to direct this adaptation because of her attention to detail and history, while allowing the show to stretch beyond strict realism.

If someone were coming to New York and were planning to only see one show during their visit, how would you pitch The Unsinkable Molly Brown?

Of all the shows open in New York right now, Molly has the most luscious score, the most inspiring story, and the cutest leading couple.

The show wraps up on March 22. Are there plans to transfer it to Broadway after? Where can your fans catch you next? 

Molly has no current plans to transfer, so we’ll see!

Fun HomeIt was recently announced that Jake Gyllenhaal’s production company will be developing a film adaptation of Fun Home. Aside from yourself, who else makes up your dream cast for this movie?

I’m very partial to my original Broadway cast of course, but I know Mr. Gyllenhaal will make a beautiful movie with Sam Gold at the helm and Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori also on board.

On February 24, you’ll be performing in Broadway Belts for PFF!, an annual fundraiser that raises money to fight pulmonary fibrosis. What can fans expect from this one-night-only event? 

I don’t really know because it’s my first time involved! But I do know that with a lineup like Julie Halston and Annaleigh Ashford, it’s going to be a blast.

Last fall, you became one of the first female performers to take on the role of Miss Trunchbull in Matilda (at a production at Muny in St. Louis), which has previously typically been performed by a male actor in drag. What type of pressure and/or creative challenges did this experience present and what were some of the most rewarding aspects of it?

I loved [director John] Tartaglia, I love working at the MUNY and I fell madly in love with about 30 amazing kids. The challenges were that the score is written in a man’s key, so fixing keys that the kids could also sing was a trick. And my size had to be “augmented,” which was extremely hot and uncomfortable.

In addition to your theater work, you’ve also appeared in films like Brittany Runs a Marathon and The Comedian, and TV shows like Law & Order and BrainDead. What have you found to found be the biggest differences between acting on stage versus on film? 

This year I recurred on Bluff City Law and Baker and the Beauty upcoming on ABC. Both shot out of town, so the travel and getting used to a new place, then getting up to shoot the next day is always challenging—but I’m getting better at it! The trick is to somehow get to sleep when you’re so excited to shoot the next day.

CompanyPurely as a theater fan, what are some Broadway productions opening in 2020 that you can’t wait to see? 

I can’t wait to see Girl From The North Country. My pal Mark Kudisch is so good in it, as is everyone. Company is rehearsing on the same floor as Molly and that score has cross-pollinated with ours so that we were all singing “Molly, come on over for dinner”!! They sound amazing.

If you were running for President this year, what would your campaign slogan be?

We Ain’t Down Yet!


CLICK HERE to purchase tickets to see Beth Malone in The Unsinkable Molly Brown, playing at the Abrons Art Center (466 Grand Street, New York, NY) from February 8 – March 22. 

About ALEX KELLEHER-NAGORSKI 171 Articles
Alex has been writing for PopBytes since 2011. As the Theater Editor, he focuses on all aspects of Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional Theater, and beyond. Alex lives in Western Massachusetts and can be found on Twitter at @AlexKNagorski.