CENTERVILLE — The Scarlet Pimpernel was first a stage play in 1903, and then turned into a novel by the same author, Baroness Orczy, in 1905. It is a popular story that has been adapted many times and in many different ways, including a series of novels by the Baroness, films, and television. This Broadway adaptation with music by Frank Wildhorn and Nan Knighton, which premiered in 1997. The musical has an interesting history of several revisions, and I happen to have seen The Scarlet Pimpernel 1.0 in 1997 and The Scarlet Pimpernel 2.0 in 1998. The production that we see now is actually The Scarlet Pimpernel 4.0, based on the rewrites for the national tour that commenced in 2000.
The story follows Sir Percy Blakeney, played by Ben Lowell, as he marries the beautiful Marguerite St. Just, played by Anya Young Wilson, but then gets wrapped up in the scandals and confusion of betrayal and loyalty of the French revolution, Marguerite’s supposed role in it, and Percy’s role as an English aristocrat. What follows is a tale of humor and betrayal and fashion sense.
Speaking of fashion sense, as is the case with most productions of the Scarlet Pimpernel, the costumes, by Kierstin Gibbs, did not disappoint. Perhaps the best part of the show, and at least in my opinion the most humorous thing that Wildhorn has ever written, the song, “That is Why The Lord Created Men,” was made so much better by the costumes. The choreography by Marilyn Montgomery combined with the costumes to make a perfect scene.
Directed by Emily Wadley, CenterPoint‘s production of the Pimpernel has a great many strengths. The set by Rob Nelson and music direction by Arianne Hellewell were impeccable. There is a moment during the song, “Into the Fire,” where the mast of the ship comes up and the timing of the set and the music, with the perfect harmonies and the directorial choices of Wadley combined with the strong vocals directed by Hellewell made for a beautiful moment.
Lowell as Percy embodied the role with the exact amount of flair and bravery. Wilson as Marguerite was a good balance, and had a strong French accent and did especially well when singing in French.
Jacob Omer as Chauvelin, the antagonist of the show, had a strong voice and the embodiment of the anger that is prevalent in the tales of the French revolution. Omer displayed this anger well in the song, “Madame Guillotine,” with the entire ensemble backing him up. However, I wish he had displayed a little more of the manipulative passion in the character that is expected with his interactions with Marguerite.
Derek Marsden as Armand, the brother of Marguerite, did so well as the endearing character, and the two had a fantastic bit of sibling chemistry that actually had me tearing up during the song, “You Are My Home.” The rest of the gentlemen who built up the Pimpernel’s gang held the perfect balance of humor and surprising bravery.
The fascinating thing about the show The Scarlet Pimpernel is the theme of bravery that is expected and apparent in a show about war but also the underlying themes that are unexpected like communication, love, and loyalty that are well played out in this production. The transitions in some of the scenes in The Scarlet Pimpernel do not work well, but that issue is much more a problem of the writing than it is anything that the cast or the production team have done. With the material they have been given and the things they have to work with, the CenterPoint production has done a strong job. Some of the additional technical elements, like the lighting by Dalin Alvery and Nathan Hadley and adding fog and the great projection designs of the French and British scenery added to the full imagery and vision of the story.
If you don’t know much about the French Revolution, there are themes of violence and murder throughout the show that might be difficult for some younger audiences, but the production handles it well.