2nd Sunday Cinema screening in Joplin and Webb City

By Stacey McBride

Donnettes with Nelly Don in scene making dresses out of Nell’s home, played by Brooke Myers as Beulah, Courtney Ellis as Kathryn, Kirsten Myers as Mildred, Kelsie Clark Massey as Hilda and Julie Pope as Nelly Don Courtesy: Nelly Don Theatrical LLC

Nell Quinlan Donnelly Reed, a global fashion trailblazer born and raised in Parsons, Kansas, around the dawn of the 20th century, is generating lots of regional excitement due to the feature film “Nelly Don the Musical Movie.” The film is set to grace the screens of the Harry M. Cornell Arts & Entertainment Complex in Joplin, Missouri, and the historic Route 66 Theater in Webb City, Missouri, for one day only—April 14—at the 2nd Sunday Cinema screening. 


Great Wonders Productions, a Joplin-based nonprofit cinematic arts organization, launched 2nd Sunday Cinema to showcase regional, independent films. The Nelly Don movie featured at the April show will include an audience Q&A by filmmaker Terence O’Malley, who is also the grandnephew of Nelly Don, and will include some Nelly Don dresses to view. This biopic has earned accolades from theaters and cinemagoers who have seen the movie in the Kansas City metro, where it has been playing for 24 weeks due to popular demand. It was the highest-grossing film in 2023 at one famous Kansas City-area theater.

O’Malley is an acclaimed author, historian, musician, attorney and filmmaker who brought his creative vision to life as the producer, director and lyricist in this extraordinary biopic set in the early 1900s. “I produced a book and documentary about Nelly Don in 2006 and was then inspired to do a musical. When it sold out in three days and the pandemic hit, I decided to make a feature film instead of relaunching the musical production,” said O’Malley.

The story seamlessly wove history, drama and music together by O’Malley, who drew from cherished childhood memories of his grandmother’s scrapbook filled with news clippings of Nelly Don’s triumphs in the fashion business, tumultuous kidnapping saga and the gripping rescue. 

“The movie has its campy moments, but my collaboration with esteemed musical composer Daniel Doss propels the narrative through amazing scores and harmonies. The songs keep with the great American music tradition,” O’Malley added.

Nelly’s meteoric rise to fame stems from her revolutionary invention – the house dress – leading to a staggering 75 million global dress sales and establishing her among the first self-made female millionaires. Unlike the utilitarian, drab garments of the time, these dresses were not just fashionable; they were a source of empowerment for women, instilling confidence and a sense of self-worth.

The Nelly Don story extends beyond fashion, involving entanglements with a U.S. senator and a notorious mobster, and the poignant journey of adopting her biological child after the child was birthed in Europe to hide a scandalous secret. “Nelly Don the Musical Movie” promises to captivate audiences by portraying this remarkable woman’s life, played by Kansas City actress Julie Pope.

While the film is suitable for all audiences, parental guidance is advised due to mature themes and discussions surrounding suicide. This intriguing tale, rooted in the region, showcases the spirit and fortitude Nelly had to become a true fashion icon. 

Information about the movie is at nellydon.com and tickets are available at upliftfilmfest.com/second-sunday-cinema. 

Filmmaker, director, historian and grandnephew of Nelly Don, Terence O’Malley.