CENTERVILLE — The Scarlet Pimpernel is a classic story that has had several stage, movie, and musical adaptions. The story revolves around Percy Blakeney, an English aristocrat who is about to wed a french actress, Marguerite St. Just, a woman he met just six weeks before. The story is set during the French Revolution, and follows the main characters as they deal with love, heartbreak, betrayal, past secrets, loyalty to country, and many other twists and turns. There is of course the requisite evil man, Chauvelin, the kind brother, Armand, and a great deal of comedy woven into the show.
The show begins as Marguerite is giving her final performance on the French stage before leaving for England and her wedding. As Marguerite, played by Holly Jo Samuelson, began to sing the opening number, “Storybook,” I was impressed with the quality and sound of her voice. I was also impressed with her stage presence; she seemed to command the stage and engage the audience, so I was immediately transfixed. Throughout the show, Sanuelson continued to be a strong presence. I was extremely touched by the song “When I Look At You,” which describes the anguish that sometimes is felt when a person loves someone who has changed, and they are longing to understand the changes and continue in the love. I felt that Samuelson had grasped that concept, and embraced the emotion of the song. There is also a song that Marguerite sings with her brother, Armand, played by Addison Marlor. The song, “You are My Home,” is a beautiful song that shows the love of family. I was impressed by the acting of both Samuelson and Marlor during this number from Frank Wildhorn and Nan Knighton‘s score.
Another very strong element of this production was the costumes. In the program, credit for the costumes goes to a team of designers, including Michael Nielsen, Wendy Nago, Lisa Safeer, and Al Miller. The costumes of the time period, especially the women’s dresses, are elaborate and complicated. Also, adding to the difficulty of this show, is the necessity of the men’s costumes, as they add a great deal to the plot. I felt that this team had risen to the task of providing costumes that were beautiful, appropriate, and essential to the completion of the story.
One of my favorite songs in the show is a song entitled “Into the Fire” sung by Percy, played by Brett Bradford, and the chorus men who make up the army of the Scarlet Pimpernel. The Centerpoint production did this number quite well, pulling together many elements that I want to highlight. The first commendable aspect of this song was the lighting design (by David Larsen). I was impressed and intrigued by how the lights mimicked a storm.
Second, there was the set design. There was a particular element in the set during “Into the Fire” that motivated the audience to burst into applause mid-song. I do not want to give away the moment for future attendees of the show, but I must commend set designer Scott Van Dyke and his crew for developing such a wonderful set, not just to be visually pleasing, but to add to the progression of the story.
The final thing I want to bring up in regards to “Into the Fire” is the harmonies of the chorus. I have seen professional productions of The Scarlet Pimpernel that had terrific leading actors and actresses, but the chorus numbers were not strong. I was pleasantly surprised by the chorus, especially in this number. Praise should be given to Marcie Jacobsen for her role as music director, who ensured that the vocal harmonies were so gorgeous.
Other strong chorus numbers included “Madame Guillotine” and “The Creation of Man.” The former song is a difficult number to do because the subject matter is quite disturbing. I was liked Scott Montgomery’s direction of this number because he did not shy away from the horrors of the guillotine and its role in the French Revolution. I also enjoyed the comedy in “The Creation of Man” and how the chorus members embraced the chance to be a part of that comedy. Marilyn May Montgomery‘s choreography in this number was not only visually interesting, but it also helped move the plot along.
This production of The Scarlet Pimpernel is admirable and unquestionably enjoyable. Potential audience members should note, however, that the show does run long, and may not been entertaining for younger audiences. However, I do feel it was an excellent evening of theatre.