The Unsinkable Molly Brown (musical)

The Unsinkable Molly Brown is a 1960 musical with music and lyrics by Meredith Willson and book by Richard Morris. The plot is a fictionalized account of the life of Margaret Brown, who survived the sinking of the RMS Titanic, and her wealthy miner-husband. A musical film version also titled The Unsinkable Molly Brown, with screenplay by Helen Deutsch, was released in 1964.

The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Original Broadway Cast Recording CD
MusicMeredith Willson
LyricsMeredith Willson
BookRichard Morris
Productions1960 Broadway
1962, 1989 US national tour
2009 West End
2014 Denver


The original Broadway production opened at the Winter Garden Theatre on November 3, 1960 and closed on February 10, 1962 after 532 performances and 1 preview. It was directed by Dore Schary and choreographed by Peter Gennaro. The opening cast included Tammy Grimes, Harve Presnell, and Jack Harrold. Grimes won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Grimes appeared in the US national tour in 1962, including Los Angeles and San Francisco in April and June 1962, respectively.[1]

Presnell reprised his stage role for the 1964 film, also titled The Unsinkable Molly Brown starring Debbie Reynolds. The two starred in a 1989-1990 national tour.[2][3]

The first West End production, with Abi Finley and Sean Pol McGreevy in the leading roles, opened in May 2009.[4]


A reading of Molly Brown, the first of the revised versions by Dick Scanlan, took place in Denver at the Denver Center Theatre Company's Colorado New Play Summit in February 2009. The show was directed by Kathleen Marshall and starred Kerry O'Malley as Molly, Marc Kudisch as James Joseph "J.J." Brown, William Parry as Horace Tabor, and Linda Mugelston as Polly Pry. The story was revised "to use more elements from the real-life story" of Molly Brown.[5]

A reading of the musical was held in May 2010. The show was directed/choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, music supervision by Michael Rafter, with Sutton Foster as Molly and Craig Bierko as J.J. Brown. This reading had only Molly and J.J. as characters, cutting out all others that were in the previous version.[6]

Another reading of the musical by Scanlan was staged in December 2011. The creative team was the same as in May 2010, and it starred Foster and Kudisch again, Teal Wicks, Francis Jue and Zachary James, among others. About half the score is from the original musical and "the rest of the ‘new’ score is made up of songs from the late Willson's catalog."[7]

Opening September 12, 2014, a full production of the Dick Scanlan revisioning was produced at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, running through October 26. The production featured Beth Malone and Burke Moses. The plotline differed significantly from the original production, opening with Molly in the Titanic lifeboat, and then flashing back to follow her life from her first visit to Leadville. The production received favorable reviews from local reviewers and a notice in the New York Times, "A New Crew Salvages Old Molly Brown."[8]


In the early 1900s, feisty tomboy Molly Tobin wrestles with her three younger brothers[9]and tells them and her father that she wants to learn to read and write and to find a rich husband ("I Ain't Down Yet"). Molly makes her way to the Saddle Rock saloon in Leadville, Colorado and applies for a job. On the way to Leadville, Colorado she meets J.J. "Leadville" Johnny Brown, who falls in love with her and promises to give her whatever she wants ("I'll Never Say No"). After they marry, Johnny sells a claim and provides Molly with the money she wants, enough to enter the high social life in Denver ("Beautiful People of Denver"). Molly and Johnny, now dressed in gaudy finery, are made fun of by the Denver society people she wants to impress, and they travel to Europe, against Johnny's better instincts.

The couple, and especially Molly, are welcomed and accepted by European royalty, but the attentions of Prince DeLong towards Molly upset Johnny and he returns to Leadville alone. Molly realizes that Johnny is her true love, and she sails for home on the RMS Titanic ("Dolce Far Niente"). As the Titanic sinks and the tragedy unfolds, Molly survives in one of the lifeboats. She finally is reunited with Johnny, who has built Molly her own "castle," a beautiful home in the Rocky Mountains.

Musical numbers

The song "I Ain't Down Yet" became a popular standard. Musicians who recorded it included Dinah Shore in 1961,[10] Lester Lanin and his Orchestra in 1962,[11] and John Gary in 1966.[12] The tune was also adapted as the theme for the children's TV show Wonderama, in which children in the audience waved their raised arms back and forth in time to the music during the opening credits.[13]


  1. Zolotow, Sam. "Schary To Stage Play About Files", The New York Times, April 2, 1962, p. 26
  2. Churnin, Nancy."Stage Review Debbie Reynolds Is Unsinkable in 'Molly Brown'" Los Angeles Times, August 25, 1989
  3. Klein, Alvin."Debbie Reynolds Re-Creates 'Molly'" The New York Times, April 1, 1990.
  4. Shenton, Mark."'The Unsinkable Molly Brown' review", June 1, 2009.
  5. Jones, Kenneth. "O'Malley Is Molly Brown in Denver Reading of Revised Musical; Kudisch Also Stars",, January 30, 2009.
  6. Jones, Kenneth."EXCLUSIVE: Sutton Foster and Craig Bierko to Star in Molly Brown Musical Reading",, April 30, 2010.
  7. Jones, Kenneth. "Sutton Foster and Marc Kudisch Bang Unsinkable Molly Brown's Tub in Reading of Revised Musical" Archived 2012-06-30 at the Wayback Machine,, December 27, 2011.
  8. David, Cara Joy (17 September 2014). "A New Crew Salvages Old 'Molly Brown'". Retrieved 22 December 2017.
  9. "'The Unsinkable Molly Brown' Synopsis", accessed August 22, 2011
  10. Dinah Shore, "I Ain't Down Yet," YouTube:
  11. "I Ain't Down Yet," Lester Lanin and his Orchestra, YouTube:
  12. John Gary, "I Ain't Down Yet," YouTube:
  13. Wonderama, Intro with Kids, 1973, YouTube:
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