Marshall-Directed Molly Brown, Plus Four Plays, Named for 2009 Denver Play Summit

By Kenneth Jones
December 3, 2008

The Denver Center Theatre Company's fourth annual Colorado New Play Summit in February 2009 will feature a workshop reading of a new adaptation of the Meredith Willson musical, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, about the Denverite who survived the sinking of the Titanic.

Kathleen Marshall (Broadway's The Pajama Game, Wonderful Town) will direct the re-examination of the 1960 musical by late songwriter Willson (The Music Man) and librettist Richard Morris. Tony Award nominee Dick Scanlan, the lyricist and book writer of Broadway's Thoroughly Modern Millie, is writing a new book that is expected to offer a fuller picture of the colorful Brown. The Willson estate has given him permission to go into the songwriter's trunk to see how the story can be fleshed out with additional music.

Tammy Grimes won a Best Featured Actress Tony playing the feisty Gold Rush-era character, whose watchcry was "I Ain't Down Yet." Debbie Reynolds starred in the movie version and toured with the show in her later career.

There are plans for future commercial development of the project. This marks the first time a musical has been part of the New Play Summit.

Four Denver Center commissions are also part of the New Play Summit, which will run Feb. 12-14, 2009, offering readings and panels for an industry crowd.

Two fully produced world-premiere productions playing DCTC stages purposely coincide with the Summit dates: Inana by Michele Lowe and Dusty and the Big Bad World by Cusi Cram.

DCTC artistic director Kent Thompson, director of new play development Bruce Sevy and literary manager Douglas Langworthy have selected the following new works to present to artistic directors, literary managers, dramaturgs, directors and press representatives who will travel to Denver Feb. 12-14:

  • The Unsinkable Molly Brown, lyrics and music by Meredith Willson, book by Dick Scanlan based on the original book by Richard Morris, directed by Kathleen Marshall. "The Unsinkable Molly Brown rises again! The Colorado New Play Summit workshops Dick Scanlan's sparkling new adaptation of this great Meredith Willson musical. Two-time Tony-nominee playwright Scanlan, co-creator of Broadway's Tony Award winning Thoroughly Modern Millie, is completely overhauling the book of this exuberant musical, based on his extensive research into Colorado and Brown's colorful Gold Rush past. Never before heard compositions from the Willson trunk add luster to the already outstanding score. Directed by two-time Tony Award winner Kathleen Marshall, this promises to be a fascinating look at the titanic rewrite process of a musical theatre classic."

  • Eventide by Eric Schmiedl, based on the novel by Kent Haruf, commissioned by the Denver Center Theatre Company: "A moving companion piece to Eric Schmiedl's adaptation of Kent Haruf's Plainsong, Eventide continues the story of the aging McPheron brothers and their 'adopted' daughter, Victoria Roubideaux. At the same time, Haruf turns his focus on a mismatched group of parents and children, residents of Holt, whose unvarnished lives are both fragile and tough. An honest, compassionate tale of how families in this small Colorado town are forged out of necessity."

  • When Tang Met Laika by Rogelio Martinez, commissioned by the Denver Center Theatre Company and Magic Theatre/Alfred P. Sloan Foundation New Science & Technology Plays Initiative: "In the 1990s Americans and Russians started to work together building the International Space Station. With more than a half century of hostilities under their space suits, can two old foes start to trust one another again? A play about the cold war warming up, a space shuttle program finding its purpose as it nears retirement, one very large robotic arm, weightlessness and a gun."

    When Tang Met Laika was workshopped at the 2008 New Works Festival (Andrew Leynse, artistic director) at Perry Mansfield Performing Arts Camp in Steamboat Springs, CO.

  • Take Me to the River by Constance Congdon, commissioned by the Denver Center Theatre Company and Magic Theatre/Alfred P. Sloan Foundation New Science & Technology Plays Initiative: "Working a farm that's been in the family for four generations, the Campbells face the loss of their crops, their home and way of life over a water dispute. Kansas is suing Colorado for water owed from a river that originates in Colorado, but is shared with Kansas and Nebraska. Based on real stories, two families, the Campbells and the Montoyas, become torn apart as they are engulfed in this contentious environmental and political crisis."

  • Flooded by Julie Marie Myatt, commissioned by the Denver Center Theatre Company: "A star TV meteorologist turns oracle when he abandons bland L.A. for the wilder weather of North Carolina. As natural disasters mount world-wide, William unknowingly channels an on-camera voice of doom that ties extreme climate events to the sins of mankind. Despite the show's popularity, he finds to his sorrow that telling truth to power may cost him everything he holds dear. Playwright Myatt deftly plucks the dark threads of myth, folk tale, and religious prophecy that lie unquiet beneath the surface of modern existence."

    The 2009 Colorado New Play Summit will also include a nationally-known panel of artistic directors discussing "What's New for New Plays?" Artistic director Thompson will moderate the discussion joined by panelists Polly Carl, producing artistic director of The Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis; John Clinton Eisner, producing director of the Lark Play Development Center in New York; and Janice Paran, dramaturg at the Sundance Institute Theatre Program. Another panelist will be announced later.

    For more information and Summit registration visit www.denvercenter.org/summit or call (303) 893-6030.

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    With additional funding from the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, the Denver Center Theatre Company currently has commissioned new works from playwrights Jose Cruz Gonzalez, Jason Grote, Steven Cole Hughes, Octavio Solis and Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder.