Beth Malone on Molly Brown, playing strong historical characters, and coming back to Denver
For the updated version of The Unsinkable Molly Brown, which will kick off the new Denver Center Theatre Company season this fall, the DCTC has cast Beth Malone, an unsinkable Colorado native, in the starring role. Malone began her career as a teenager playing roles at the Country Dinner Playhouse and has since performed on stages all over the country; she made her Broadway debut in 2006 as June Carter Cash in Ring of Fire and was recently seen off-Broadway at the Public Theatre in Fun Home. After her casting as Molly Brown was announced, Westword caught up with Malone to talk about going for the role of Molly Brown and portraying strong, historical characters.
Beth Malone will be in Denver in September as Molly Brown.
See also: Colorado gets "A Call to Arms" at the Molly Brown House Museum
Westword:: You have the lead role in The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and you're from here. How excited are you?
Beth Malone in Fun Home.
Beth Malone: Oh, I'm so excited. I'm excited for a few reasons. First of all, it's a really hard-won role. I had to really be my best. It took me my whole life to be able to walk in and get that role. It's just like everything I have done before walking into that room prepared me to go in there and get that part! The odds are so, I mean, I can't even explain to you how crazily stacked against me, getting that part. I told everybody, oh, I'm going to New York, I'm going to this audition...but it's this really cool thing because as I walked in there, I felt like, oh my God, I have a shot at this. Or at least I'm going to make it hurt if they can't give me this part. And they had it offered to a star, and that person is just not available right now or doesn't want to come to Denver to do it, so it's me!
The response has been really, really fun. It's been fun to have everybody, you know, it's been better than Christmas. People calling me and saying, "Oh my god!" People from high school are getting a group together to come and see it, so that's going to be awesome.
You had to travel to New York for the audition. What inspired you to go for this role?
I had done Annie Get Your Gun a few seasons ago at the Sacramento Music Circus, and I had these crazy reviews and it became this sleeper hit. The whole run sold out. And it's Annie Get Your Gun, so it's like, why is this show so good? It's because this particular kind of a role is just really something in my wheelhouse. The very first thing I ever played was at the Country Dinner Playhouse in Denver, and I played Ado Annie in Oklahoma!. That was my first fledgling attempt at creating a role like this, a person who is rural but smart and kind of clueless but also running the show. So that sort of was my first attempt at creating this type of role.
Last year, I won the Ovation Award in Los Angeles for playing, for taking vintage-y type of musical theater, leading ladies that seem pretty archaic and pretty two-dimensional and fleshing super intense, meaningful life out of them. That's what I do. 'Cause when I got Seven Brides last year, I was like I don't want to do this, but then I was like okay, if I have to do it, I'm going to do it in a way that I'd want to watch. So there was something in there to wring out some meaning for people and for me. So that was what I did. And then, I'm in San Diego right now doing Annie Get Your Gun, and so, my friend Heather was like, you have to go get seen for this [the part in The Unsinkable Molly Brown]. I called my agent and said I want to go in for this.
I had a place in New York all last year and I still had it at the end of the year, so I had a place to stay. All I had to do was get there and prepare for the material, which was a lot. They had you do two scenes and then a song. The song was really intense. In fact, when I walked in to the initial audition, they were like, we know you're not going to be able to do this, but just give it your best shot. I think a lot of people really struggled with that material for some reason, and I'm sure they saw some people struggle with it and some people really nail it. But I had worked and worked on it, I worked my ass off on it, so I was like, I'm just going to stand in the middle of the room and let it fly. I didn't do it that cocky because at the time, I was like, maybe I am going to mess up.
I know! But I was just like, well I'm feeling pretty much like I'm going to be able to just stand in the middle of the audition room and nail the song right now so I'm just going to try it at least. So I did, and I did nail it. And that was that moment in the room where I felt like, oh, I just changed their perception of me, just now. I just watched it happen. Now they're interested. And then they were like, now read this scene, and they were leaning forward. And their eyes were open. Then they were like, oh! And after everything I did, it was like another victory. Like in a video game when you eat a power pill and your power bar on the side goes up and you can see how much power you have? Brring! I just went up 50 percent! Now read this scene. Brring! Oh, I'm at 75 percent! And you walk into the room at zero. You walk into the room at zero. And I often walk out of the room at zero. I'm just a shitty auditioner, but this audition I really did...I got it.
It didn't happen that easy. They called and said, okay, we want you to come back. So I had to go back to New York and do it again! And they gave me more material. They gave me two more songs and one more scene.
Do you feel like you did as well the second time as you did the first time?
I did not do as well. I was a little more relaxed because I have a friend, my friend Jeanine Tesori, who wrote the music to Fun Home..Jeanine Tesori, she is an amazing human being. She co-wrote Thoroughly Modern Millie with Dick Scanlan who wrote the lyrics for Millie and is rewriting the book for Molly Brown. She said, relax when you go in there, they're fans, so you don't have to try too hard. So, I didn't try very hard when I went in the second time. I was like, they like me. I'm just going to go in and be myself. More than an audition, I'm going to treat this one like a rehearsal, and I did. I didn't lean in as much as I should have maybe, and I thought maybe I was just phoning that one in, but I tried. I did. I tried my best, but I just wasn't nervous. I didn't know what to make of my lack of nerves.
So you identify with these women, these vintage characters, that you portray?
Yeah, and you know what, Molly Brown is like the mother lode, literally. To use a mining term, she is the mother lode of these types of characters. I haven't ever played Molly Brown or even seen a production of Molly Brown. The initial musical was really dated. Did you ever see that movie with Debbie Reynolds? It's just like this cartoony, two-dimensional, Technicolor...you have to really be stoned to watch it. So I was like, oh my god, and the songs are crazy but they're really fun. And there's this dance number that's crazy fun in it...it's not in the production as of now, but they may restore that. That's why Dick Scanlan is rewriting it. Actually, he's putting in facts.
Molly Brown isn't just some cartoonish character. She's a person who really had some meat on her. She got the mines unionized in Colorado. That's the big thing that she did, and all kinds of stuff, and that whole Titanic thing. But she really did revolutionize Denver society, and she really did go to Europe and learn French and become a lady from literally nothing. It's going to be interesting. Have you ever been to the Molly Brown house in Denver?> I went when I was in third grade on a field trip, but that's it. And then, up in Leadville?
Keep reading for more from Beth Malone.