New Grants Aim to Fund High School Productions of The Unsinkable Molly Brown | Playbill

Education News New Grants Aim to Fund High School Productions of The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Ten $10,000 grants will be awarded to high schools looking to perform Dick Scanlan's updated version of the Meredith Willson musical.

Beth Malone and David Aron Damane in The Unsinkable Molly Brown Carol Rosegg

The Educational Theatre Foundation is partnering with The Music Man Foundation and Music Theatre International to fund up to 10 high schools performing a new revision of The Unsinkable Molly Brown before it's fully released for licensing. Up to 10 schools will be selected to receive $10,000 grants funded by TMMF for productions of the Meredith Willson musical in the 2023-24 and 2024-25 school years.

Any accredited high school is invited to apply, with applications for the first round due by October 27. The first wave of recipients will be revealed in mid-November, with dates for a second round to be announced. Recipients of the grant will be selected by a committee comprising representatives from all three partner organizations. Interested schools can apply here.

Applicants will be asked to show plans to use the work as a tool to engage their school and community in the musical's themes, which include women's and immigrants' rights, community-building, and Molly Brown's civic-minded "share-the-luck" spirit. MTI is currently offering the script online to read for free here.

The musical tells the rags-to-riches story of Margaret “Molly” Brown—a turn-of-the-century hero of the underdog, champion of women’s rights, fighter for labor rights, advocate of immigration reform—and, most famously, survivor of the Titanic. The original version was Willson's follow-up to smash hit The Music Man, opening on Broadway in 1960 with Tammy Grimes in the title role. Molly Brown would prove to be a more modest success compared to The Music Man, running just two years and 532 performances. Debbie Reynolds led a film version in 1964. In the years since, the musical has become seldom performed.

Three-time Tony nominee Dick Scanlan began work on a revised version of the work as early as 2009, penning a new book that focused on portraying its title character as she really was—vibrant, progressive, and modern. Scanlan's version featured Willson's original score with other songs from the Music Man writer's archives interpolated into the songlist. After a series of developmental readings, the revised version premiered at Denver Center for the Performing Arts in 2014, playing an Off-Broadway run via Transport Group in 2020. Kathleen Marshall directed and choreographed both runs, which starred Fun Home Tony nominee Beth Malone in the title role. A cast recording of the 2020 cast was released in 2022. MTI plans to release the revised version for licensing beyond this project next year.

"The Educational Theatre Foundation is proud to champion this new grant opportunity," says ETF Board Chair Mat Conover. "Using theatre as a means to promote racial equity and spark social actvism in underserved populatons is a key part of ETF’s mission, and the themes of women’s rights, labor rights, and immigraton reform present in Margaret Brown’s story align with that mission. We look forward to seeing the next generaton engage with this classic musical in new and empowering ways."

"Dick Scanlan’s work on updating this classic for new performers and audience members is outstanding," adds MTI Chief Operating Officer and Director of Development and Education John Prignano. "Timeless numbers from the original, like ‘I Ain't Down Yet’ and ‘I'll Never Say No’ are featured, while ‘He’s My Friend’ has been added from the film along with clever and insightful new lyrics from some of Meredith Willson’s beloved trunk songs. The result is a fantastic new show that resonates today while maintaining the heart and spirit of Willson’s and Morris’ original golden-age masterpiece."

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