The Making of 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown' + the origin of every song

by John Moore | Sep 25, 2014


The Denver Center for the Performing Arts is hosting the launch of a completely re-imagined The Unsinkable Molly Brown, directed by Kathleen Marshall and featuring both a new book by Dick Scanlan and a recalibrated Meredith Willson score that includes many new Willson songs. Marshall calls the result "Americana at its best: Big, strong, open-hearted and optimistic.”

The video above tells the story of the making of the musical in Denver. It includes interviews with Kathleen Marshall, Dick Scanlan, Beth Malone, Burke Moses, Paul Tazewell and Eric Rouse. Video by David Lenk. Interviews by John Moore. The musical plays through Oct. 26 at the Stage Theatre. Call 303-893-4100 or go to www.DenverCenter.Org.


The new 'Molly Brown score: Where do the songs come from?


Audiences are leaving The Unsinkable Molly Brown humming a tune -- but they might not know where their tune comes from. Writer Dick Scanlan and Musical Director Michael Rafter were given permission to overhaul the musical's original score, eliminating some songs and adding others from the Willson canon.  For example, one centerpiece song, Don't Put Bananas on Bananas, originally was written to be included in Willson's masterpiece, The Music Man.

In the end, six songs remain untouched from the original The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Scanlan has introduced 11 "new" songs to the score, though seven of the 11 aren't entirely new. Scanlan also was allowed to interpolate songs, meaning that he has added additional lyrics written by Willson or original lyrics written by himself. Some songs draw from several sources.

One, you may be surprised to learn, resulted from a song Willson wrote as a commission for the U.S. government -- advocating the use of chemical warfare. (True story!) That song has been turned into a lovely ballad here called Wait for Me.

Read our full interview with Dick Scanlan by clicking here.

Here are the stories of the origins of all the songs in the musical, as provided by Scanlan. (The commentaries are his):

May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You: "Meredith wrote this for The Big Show, Tallulah Bankhead's radio show in the early '50s, for which he was the bandleader.  It was a modest hit at the time."
 
Colorado, My Home: "From the Broadway production of The Unsinkable Molly Brown  with some new lyrics by me." The new version of the song recognizes the many varied ethnic origins of the Colorado immigrant miner population. 
 
I Ain't Down Yet: "From the Broadway production of The Unsinkable Molly Brown, with no new lyrics."
 
The Wonderful Plan: "Meredith tried to use this in every one of his shows. He finally did in 1491. Substantial new lyrics by me."
 
Just Becuz: "Standalone song written by Meredith with minimal new lyrics by me."
 
I've A'ready Started In: "From the Broadway production of The Unsinkable Molly Brown,  with no new lyrics."
 
Belly Up to the Bar, Boys: "From the Broadway production of  The Unsinkable Molly Brown, with no new lyrics."
 
I'll Never Say No: "From the Broadway production of The Unsinkable Molly Brown, with no new lyrics."
 
My Own Brass Bed: "From the Broadway production of The Unsinkable Molly Brown, with no new lyrics."
 
He's My Friend: "From the movie version of The Unsinkable Molly Brown, with substantial new lyrics by me."
 
Are You Sure: "From the Broadway production of The Unsinkable Molly Brown, with no new lyrics."
 
Beautiful People of Denver: "From the Broadway production of The Unsinkable Molly Brown, with substantial new lyrics by me."
 
The Sacred Thirty-Six: "New song created by me lyrically to music from two Willson songs, An Old-Fashioned Fourth of July (the bridge) and May-Birds (the chorus)."
 
"I'd Like to Change Everything about You": "New song created by me lyrically to music from a Willson song, We're Spending Our Honeymoon in Escrow."
 
"Cuppa Tea": "New song created by me lyrically to a song cut from the Broadway version of The Unsinkable Molly Brown titled Dignity."
 
Don't Put Bananas on Bananas: "Song cut from The Music Man, with no new lyrics."
 
Dolce Far Niente: "From the Broadway production of The Unsinkable Molly Brown, with no new lyrics."
 
The Same Little Chapel: "Song written by Meredith during World War II, with some new lyrics by me."
 
I May Never Fall in Love with You: "From the Broadway production of The Unsinkable Molly Brown, with no new lyrics."
 
Wait for Me: "New song created by me lyrically to a song entitled Fire Up! The original song was written at the behest of the Defense Department in support of chemical warfare."

Share the Luck: "The verse is new lyrics to the song You and Me. The song song itself was written by Meredith Willson for the Red Cross around the time of The Music Man.   He only wrote one chorus.  I created two additional choruses lyrically so we could build this into a rousing finale.  An astonishingly well-written tune that makes me smile every time I hear it."


Molly_Brown_Beth_Malone_Burke_Moses_800_Video

Beth Malone and Burke Moses in "The Unsinkable Molly Brown." Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.


The Unsinkable Molly Brown: Ticket information
Performances
Stage Theatre
Runs through Oct. 26
303-893-4100, or go to the Denver Center’s web site at www.DenverCenter.Org

Our Previous Molly Brown coverage on Denver CenterStage:

'Molly Brown' Meet the cast videos:
Beth Malone
Burke Moses
Patty Goble
Paolo Montalban
Linda Mugleston
Donna English

1 comment

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  1. John Hull | Mar 03, 2015

    Your production looks so wonderful that I wish I could have seen it.

    I saw the original show in Philadelphia, twice, before it went to New York, and it has always been one of my fondest theatrical memories.

    I am curious as to what you felt needed to be reworked about the score. I've always been particularly fond of the lyrics in the ballads. Unfortunately, most people only know the movie, which cut several songs and, I feel, didn't do the show justice.

    Congratulations on what must have been a stunning production!

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    Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

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