The first round of winners of the Unsinkable Molly Brown Grants has been revealed. Initially planned to be distributed to 10 schools, overwhelming interest has allowed the program to extend with six additional grants in this first round, with 16 schools receiving $10,000 awards to produce Dick Scanlan's updated version of the Meredith Willson musical in either 2024 or 2025. More grants will be awarded in spring 2024. The program is run by the Educational Theatre Foundation (ETF), The Music Man Foundation (TMMF), and Music Theatre International (MTI).
The first schools receiving grants are Aloha High School in Beaverton, Oregon; Arts High School in Newark, New Jersey; Brownell Talbot College Preparatory School in Omaha, Nebraska; Byng High School in Byng, Oklahoma; Clear Brook High School in Friendswood, Texas; Columbus School for Girls in Columbus, Ohio; Garden City High School in Garden City, Kansas; Grants Pass High School in Grants Pass, Oregon; Harry S. Truman High School in Levittown, Pennsylvania; Lake City High School in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Maryvale Preparatory School in Lutherville, Maryland; Morris Area High School in Morris, Minnesota; Seaside High School in Seaside, California; Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati, Ohio; and Woodmont High School in Piedmont, South Carolina.
Applicants were 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 has provided the revised musical's script to read online for free here.
"We are an extremely diverse community made up of immigrants from all over the world," wrote Alice Hilt, Thespian troupe director at Garden City High School. “Having a large percentage of first and second-generation immigrants, I believe Molly's story will resonate with the students and local population."
"We were overwhelmed by the response to this grant opportunity," said representatives from ETF, TMMF, and MTI in a joint statement. "It was clear that the musical’s themes resonated with students and teachers, a testament to the passion they feel about creating a better world for one another," continued Matt Conover, Chair of ETF's board of trustees. "We are thrilled to watch these students not only portray Molly’s life story on stage but also bring her fiery spirit alive in their communities."
The Unsinkable Molly Brown 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 been 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.