There's something both stimulating and frightening about the thought of 40 children congregating on stage for a musical. The right kids and the right (patient) production staff can create magic and fire up the imagination. The wrong ones ... well, we've all seen the disastrous results. In the case of BLT's production of Richard Morris and Meredith Willson's The Unsinkable Molly Brown, director Wendy Koeppl and crew can rest easy: We muggles are impressed.
The musical, the latest in a series of summer children's productions produced by Boise Little Theater and Boise Parks & Recreation, debuted on Broadway in 1960 and was developed a few years later into a movie starring Debbie Reynolds. The plot revolves around the real-life character of Margaret ("Molly") Tobin, the daughter of poor Irish immigrants who spent many a day in her youth dreaming of a way to climb out of poverty while growing up in Leadville, Colorado. Her ship finally arrived when she met and married miner J.J. ("Johnny") Brown. The couple struck gold and eventually moved to Denver, where they established themselves in philanthropic and political circles. Molly's selflessness and bravery were later heralded when she survived the Titanic disaster in 1912.
Unsinkable loosely follows Molly's life from Leadville through and past the Titanic years, including several overseas stints when she meets and befriends influential players in the European aristocracy. In the BLT/Parks & Rec. production, Molly comes satisfyingly to life in the more-than-capable hands of Jenni Kuhn. Kuhn's Molly is a feisty, funny, unsophisticated young lass who never gives up her determination to better her life, to the mutual annoyance and admiration of everyone around her. Kuhn is truly a joy to behold in the role--and a fine singer to boot. Her "Beautiful People of Denver" in the first act is a particular standout.
The actress is fortunate to be surrounded by talented youngsters, including Chris Canfield, who channels touching tenderness and resigned exasperation as doting husband Johnny. The pair share a believable onstage chemistry that anchors the production. Several of the supporting players are worth watching as well, notably India Allen as Molly's loyal friend and early employer Christmas Morgan; Nick Canfield as Roberts, the witty British servant of one of Molly's Denver rivals who later joins the Brown household; BJ Howard and Sarah Howard as the Prince and Princess DeLong, two of Molly's many overseas allies--the former becoming a suitor to Molly as well; and Kyle von der Kamp as Monsignor Ryan, one of the few Denver residents to warm up to the Browns' arrival early on.
Von der Kamp was also one of the show's choreographers, and their efforts show. Several lively dance numbers came off without a noticeable hitch on opening night and brightened what otherwise threatened to be dreary scenes of inactivity and muffled dialogue. An early ensemble number, "Belly Up to the Bar, Boys," and a later dance set in Monte Carlo, "Up Where the People Are," score top grades for originality and entertainment.
What doesn't work? Well, those brief scenes of little cast movement before the music starts for the ensemble numbers seemingly stretch beyond the real-time seconds that pass. Streams of dialogue with little more than head-nodding is exhausting for even the most supportive of audiences. And, as is often the case for musicals, projection--or lack thereof--rears its ugly head here at times, though not enough to be a deterrent, thankfully, from enjoying the proceedings and cheering on the unflappable ... er ... unsinkable heroine.
Aug. 3-5. Boise Little Theater, 100 E. Fort St. For more information or for tickets, call 342-5104.