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SCERA’s high school company Acting Up tells the buoyant story of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”

Mar 09, 2018 04:19PM

By April Berlin

OREM -- When Margaret Brown managed to scramble onto one of the few lifeboats available when the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage in 1912, the Denver, Colorado, socialite became the stuff of myth and legends. She grabbed an oar and argued vehemently that they turn the boat around and look for survivors. Later, as a philanthropist, Brown spent many years helping families whose relatives had been on the doomed voyage.

People today call her Molly Brown, although ironically, she never went by Molly during her lifetime. Dubbed the “unsinkable Mrs. Brown,” she earned stage and film fame when a popular fact-based, but fictionalized, version of her life unfolded in song and dance as “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”

SCERA’s nationally award-winning high school company, Acting Up, will showcase Brown’s rags to riches story when it presents the buoyant musical March 16-30 at SCERA Center for the Arts, 745 S. State Street, Orem. It will play Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. Reserved seat tickets are available at $10 for adults and $8 for children 3-11 and seniors 65 and older. Discounted group tickets can be purchased in advance by non-profit and church groups at $6 per ticket. To get tickets, visit, call 801-225-ARTS, or in person at the main office at SCERA Center, open 10am-6pm weekdays.

Director Kathryn Laycock Little is using a script that has been reworked from the original book and lyrics by Richard Morris and Meredith Willson.

“I like the tighter script, and it still contains wonderful music and dance and is a great example of what a person can do who has resilience and a can-do attitude,” she says.

She and the cast watched the 1964 movie that starred Debbie Reynolds, and they concluded the part of her husband, J.J. “Johnny” Brown, was a bit rough around the edges. “We decided to make he and Molly a little more real. So, although Margaret Brown is legendary, we have also turned her into a real human being.”

The play opens in her family’s modest cabin where she tries to convince her brothers that she is “gonna learn to read and write” and make something of herself.  It then tracks her evolution from rag muffin to society humanitarian. Its focus is the relationship between Molly and Johnny, as she wants to be with the high society sorts and he wants to stay with his backwoods Colorado ways.  But, just as Molly survived the sinking of The Titanic, their love for one another survives as well.

Little says the appeal of the musical is its music with big production numbers as well as lyrical ballads. “It has some great humor, but it also contains some heart-touching pathos. Johnny and Molly have difficulties. She is working so hard to be everything she wants to be that she has moved away from who she is. I like the life lessons about balance, family and loyalty.”

Starring in the SCERA production are Grace Garner as Molly and Joshua Carr as Johnny.  “They get a lot of support from a fine ensemble cast, but this really is a story about these two people,” Little explains.  That ensemble cast is made up of more than 40 teenagers in Grades 10-12 who auditioned to be in SCERA Youth Theatre’s premiere company, Acting Up. The team recently won 1st place in the advanced division for their musical medley at the Musical Theatre Competitions of America in Fullerton, California, competing against teams from across the nation.

Assisting the director is Shawn Mortensen, scenic designer, and Brodee Ripple, costume designer and choreographer. Brodee, an Acting Up alumnus, has designed dancing that, says Little, is difficult, but fun. “He makes the kids work hard, but when they get it down, they really feel as if they have accomplished something.”

She expects audiences to be humming show music as they exit the auditorium, but more important, she hopes they will realize they have seen a musical about self-discovery, and take some time to think about their own lives.