“Unsinkable Molly Brown”: A miracle in Half Moon Bay
NOTE: Tickets are still available for tonight and Sunday’s final peformance.
In case you haven’t notice, there is a miracle taking place in Half Moon Bay. This particular miracle is the Spring Musical “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” at Half Moon Bay High School. Now before I go any further, here is my disclaimer and notice of full disclosure. My daughter Victoria plays the lead, Molly Brown. I am biased, in favor of and enormously proud of the work she and her classmates have done. That being said, if you want a completely unbiased view – go this weekend. You’ll be glad you did!
The spring musical is not produced by the school, a senior drama class, or even a school drama club. The spring musical, now in its 24th year running, is produced entirely through the efforts of community volunteers. Each year, over 50 adult volunteers and of course, the entire cast and crew, come together to put on a professional musical production, replete with custom made costumes, choreography, props and sets built from the ground up, and a live orchestra.
Shoeless, spunky and full of dreams, young Molly Tobin (Victoria Ortiz) is the only daughter of an Irish immigrant in Hannibal, Missouri. She strikes out on her own landing in Leadville, a tiny mining down in the Colorado Rockies where she meets lucky prospector “Leadville” Johnny Brown, (Ryan Dill). Refusing to let love get in the way of her dreams, Molly first refuses to marry Johnny, but once she gives in they strike gold and Molly is on her way to Denver.
The Denver elite, the sacred 36, lead by society maven Gladys McGlone, (Katy Walker is perfectly cast in this role) are not about to accept Molly Brown. Her chase for acceptance takes her to the clubs of Monte Carlo, where she wins the hearts of royalty, but loses Johnny. After realizing that it’s Johnny she wants, Molly sets sail on the “unsinkable” Titanic. But, as we now know, it will take more than an iceberg to stop Molly Brown.
The production is newcomer Patti Appel’s first at the high school, after confidently stepping into the vacancy left by beloved director Jim Ward. Appel didn’t miss a beat, ably leading the cast and crew while adding her own brand of magic. Student stage manager Kathryn Nassar, in her first year with the musical, ably guided the crew in over 10 full stage changes.
In the lead role, Victoria Ortiz perfectly captures Molly’s joy for life and unbreakable spirit. Equally deft in both comedic scenes, and those small contemplative moments, Ms. Ortiz has come a long way since her first performance in Grease. The standout scene of the show, “Beautiful People of Denver; Are You Sure?” brings the first act to a uproarious close with Ms. Ortiz leading the cast in a hallelujah-inspiring high point that got the audience clapping along. Her key take away from the show? “Don’t ever forget who you are and where you come from. If you were born with a strong spirit and unsinkable nature, don’t let any amount of judgment or harsh words change that. True friends and family will accept and love that part about you, even if it means you set three hundred thousand dollars on fire from time to time!
Ryan Dill is a standout as Johnny Brown, the Colorado-loving miner who just wants to enjoy his life in Leadville. Dill’s clear strong voice is ideal for “I’ll Never Say No to You”, and his natural amiability leads believability to his character. “My favorite scene was probably the scene where I took the gun from Molly and she decided to leave me. It was fun because I got to act angry, which to me is a fun emotion to portray," said Dill. "My advice to next years seniors would be that no matter what, the most important thing is to have fun with it. If the actors are into it, the audience will be too."
Among many smaller, memorable roles in this show, sophomore Luke Cardelli, (Bartender Christmas Morgan), is the one to watch. This is Luke’s first musical and he steals the stage each time he enters. Watching Cardelli, it’s hard to believe he’s a teenager as he affects the walk, talk and small mannerisms that make for a truly believable character. Keep an eye on Mr. Cardelli as he is certainly bound for bigger roles on this stage.
Two other standouts in the performance were Senior Jacob Erickson as Molly’s father Shamus – played with a slow Irish brogue against the fast upbeat dialog of the other characters. Senior Adam Cohen as Prince DeLong nicely showcases the unrequited love of the prince in his attempt to tempt Molly away from Denver.
Choreographer Cola Claret’s patience and skill once again pay off with numerous dance numbers. The most impressive of these is the ensemble piece “Belly up to the Bar Boys” where nearly every cast member takes to the stage to dance. Professional dancer Lexi Viernes, who recently won the “Miss Dance of California” contest, is a standout in each scene, with incredible high kicks combined with complex routines. As someone who was there at the early rehearsals, I can attest to the miracle of dance that took place under Ms. Claret’s tutelage.
Once again the scenes are brought to life by the production skills of Janet Ebersole and the glamorous costuming of Robyn Hatcher. Ebersole, aided by Dave McCurdy built the bar from the ground up, including painted backdrops, bar, and two miniature pianos for the dance numbers. Even the sinking of the Titanic is captured through the combination of stop action video and live stage action.
Costuming was an elaborate effort this year that included dressing the rowdy mining town, the upper class of Denver, and even the elegant royalty of Monte Carlo. Molly Brown alone undergoes 10 costume changes over the course of the plays two hour run. Many of the costumes were hand designed and sewn by Hatcher, who was assisted by parents and volunteers.
Last but not least is the music. I attend a number of plays throughout the year, and we’re certainly lucky to have the musical guidance of John Lehrack. Following the play’s “Unsinkable” theme Lehrack continued to accompany his talented group of musicians, even after breaking his hand during the first performance. He ain’t down yet!
Molly Brown is not just a rollicking good time, it’s a chance to show your support for your community, and a great bunch of kids who make time every year to bring their art to life. And in a down economy, it’s a great deal at just $15.00 for adults and $10.00 for seniors and students.
Music by Meredith Willson, book by Richard Morris. Directed by Patti Appel. Scenic design by Janet Ebersole, costumes by Robyn Hatcher, Music by John Lehrack, choreographed by Cola Claret. At Half Moon Bay High School.