Saturday, February 27, 1999

Actors keep
‘Molly Brown’
from sinking

By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin

The Unsinkable Molly Brown: Army Community Theatre production, 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, through March 13, Richardson Theatre, Fort Shafter. Tickets: $6-$15. Call 438-4480 or 438-5230.

BELL Ruff Armstrong and Bob Koehler are the keys to keeping things afloat as Army Community Theatre acknowledges the smashing success of "Titanic" with "The Unsinkable Molly Brown." Brown became a heroine of the disaster after she took charge of one of the lifeboats, but Broadway playwrights Meredith Wilson and Richard Morris gave short shrift to the sinking and focused on the previous transformation of illiterate, dirt-poor Molly Tobin into wealthy and cultured Mrs. J.J. Brown. Armstrong stars as Molly. Koehler distinguishes himself as her husband.

Armstrong and director Brad Powell generally define Molly as equal parts Elly Mae Clampett and Minnie Pearl, but Armstrong balances the hayseed comic bits with touching renditions of "My Own Brass Bed" and "Dolce Far Niente." Koehler plays a stock Broadway "good guy" unspoiled by sudden wealth; playing likable may not be difficult, but Koehler adds vitality to the show every time he sings.

Ken K. Morita stands out as the other notable singer. Lloyd G. Mills and Sam Polson add color in nonsinging roles.

The audience was slow to respond on opening night, but the ensemble performance on choreographer Vernon Campbell’s first big number, "Belly Up to the Bar, Boys," broke the ice.

Tom Giza (set design) wisely goes for minimalism and lets the audience imagine the details. This works for the most part, but tech crew fumbles made the brief shipwreck scene a disaster in unintended ways on Thursday. The tiny Titanic on the backdrop didn’t sink, and the lifeboat stalled before it reached the wings. The passengers eventually stood up and emulated Jesus as other characters came out for the next scene.

John Berger has covered the local entertainment scene since 1972.

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