Monday, August 09, 2010

The Scarlet Pimpernel

‘SCARLET PIMPERNELL, a pleasant surprise at Mercury Summerstock

What happens when a small budget summer stock theatre, with one professional actor in its company, which performs on a postage stamp-sized stage, decides to produce a grand musical requiring numerous period correct costumes, a large male chorus that can sing, dance and act proficiently, a score that requires a grand orchestra sound, leads with very strong near opera quality singing voices, quality farce characterizations, French and English accents, and lots of scene changes? In the case of Mercury Summerstock, you get a very creditable production.

‘THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL,’ with music by Frank Wildhorn (‘JEKYLL & HYDE’ and ‘THE CIVIL WAR’) and lyrics and book by Nan Knighton (‘SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER’), is based on the novel of the same name by Baroness Orczy. The show is set in England and France during the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution. It concerns an audacious hero and his followers who use "tricks and games" against the cruel “citizen leaders.” They leave in their wake their calling card, the red, star-shaped wildflower known as the scarlet pimpernel.

The musical has a strange history. It originally opened in 1997. The production developed a cult following and, in June, shortly before the Tony Awards were announced, the show was slated to close. The show's fans known as "The League" decided it should have another try. So, new producers, rewriting, a new theatre, and two new leads (Rex Smith and Rachel York), stretched out the run until May 30, 1999.

The Mercury production, directed by Pierre-Jacque Brault, generally pleases. It moves along at a good pace. The singing, especially the male chorus, is excellent. The characterizations are appropriately broad, developing the right swash-buckling and farce feeling. The massive number of costumes are period correct, thanks to the designer Margaret Ruble. The orchestra plays well, backing up rather than enveloping the singers. The choreography is excellent and generally well done, especially considering the minute size of the stage and the required number of performers.

Creative use of chairs to set up stage divisions and new settings is employed. Accents waver, but all in all it’s a good show, especially taking into account that this is mainly an amateur cast who put the show together in ten rehearsals.

Jennifer Myor as Marguerite, the female lead, has a fine singing voice and develops her character well. Brian Marshall, the only Equity member in the cast, had some vocal problems at the start, but warmed up well as the show continued. His characterization was enjoyably funny. Shane Patrick O’Neill, who possesses an excellent singing voice, was properly villainous in the role of Chauvelin. Ryan Bergeron, as Elton, one of the merry band of Pimpernel henchmen, who play affected dandies to cover their real identities, is delightful, as are most of the rest of the male chorus.

Show highlights included: “Into the Fire,” “When I Look at You,” “Where’s The Girl?,” “The Creation of Man,” “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” and “She Was There.”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Mercury Summerstock’s ‘THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL, while not perfect, is an excellent production of a very difficult show that should please most theatre-goers. You won’t confuse this with the touring production of ‘PHANTOM OF THE OPERA’ now at the Allen Theatre, but at one-fifth the cost per ticket, “The Pimp” is well worth attending.