When we bought tickets to see The Unsinkable Molly Brown, we had no idea that we’d end up soaked. The production, a “revisal” of the original book and score, was produced at The Muny, a near century-old outdoor theatre near downtown St. Louis, Missouri. As you might know, Molly Brown was a legendary American socialite, philanthropist, and Titanic survivor. The musical version features music and lyrics by Meredith Willson and a book by Richard Morris. For a variety of reasons, few theatres attempt to produce this musical, which is why we decided to drive a couple of states away to see this particular production.
An outdoor theatre has its pros and cons. The pros being things like enormous stages, technical effects that cannot be used in a traditional theatre, and being surrounded by nature. Scripts that are heavy on exterior settings are especially great in an outdoor theatre, where actual trees and skylines can be leveraged as the backdrop. The cons, or really, the one big uncontrollable, is the weather. On a beautiful night, a seat in the audience of an outdoor theatre is the best place on earth. If it’s a sticky 98 degrees that night, might regret having purchased that ticket. Personally, I’m a huge fan of outdoor shows and don’t mind getting a little sweaty if I’m watching Shakespeare or Sondheim.
The night I went to see The Unsinkable Molly Brown at The Muny, however, tested the strength of even the most ardent theatergoers there. A bit of light rain fell before the show started, no big deal. There are plenty of covered areas for exactly this reason. We took our seats, and the overture started. Everyone could see the clouds building up in the distance behind the stage as Beth Malone made her entrance and bounced around the enormous stage, seeming unphased by the rolling thunder. A few scattered sprinkles hit the seats, but nothing you wouldn’t get from a backyard misting system. Act One finished to massive applause, and we all got in line for the bathroom. And the gods of theatre let us have it.
Right as intermission began, a huge downpour of hot summer rain came barreling at us. Thousands of audience members were huddled under the awnings. A few hundred people gave up, but my group was in it for the long haul. Things cleared up, and they called us back to our seats. A cutout of the Denver skyline was pushed out onto the stage while the crew mopped up the puddles. Everyone in the audience got comfy and the music began to play. Then: more torrential rain. The music stopped as the orchestra ran for cover. The Denver skyline disappeared, and we all headed for cover. After about 30 minutes of rain, the clouds drifted away and we all got ready for Act Two. Here comes Denver! (Loud thunder from above) There goes Denver! We all scurry back to shelter. We ain’t down yet! I would have read a few actor bios but my program was soaked. We did look a few up on Instagram, though, and found some funny backstage posts. I bought a t-shirt.
After almost two hours of intermission, the storms finally cleared. Dever returned to the upstage wall, and the show was once again underway. The Titanic sank, and Molly got her eleven o’clock number around midnight. We made it through curtain call with only a few more sprinkles. Half the audience had bounced nearly an hour before, so getting to our car was a snap.
So why did we stay? Sure, a fourteen-hour round-trip drive is a large enough investment to keep you in your seat through a lot, but we stayed for more than that. The cast was visibly grateful to everyone who stayed through the end, and the audience was thankful for their dedication. Who wants to scale up the side of wet set pieces in the middle of the night? I don’t! But I totally would in their situation. Once the performance starts, the show must go on. Not only for the audience, but for the cast, crew, and musicians, too. Live theatre is about bringing a work of art to life at 8 o’clock and putting it to rest the same night. Or in this case, early the next morning.