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|A CurtainUp Review
The Scarlet Pimpernel Version 3.0
The Scarlet Pimpernel, seems to come and disappear and reappear, just like its hero. The tale of romantic intrigue set to the easy listening musical beat of Frank Wildhorn has, like Sir Percy, eluded failure by reinventing itself several times.
When it first opened at the Minskoff in 1997, audiences ignored critical pans and kept the curtain up for almost a year. When Pimpernel Version .01 closed it was only long enough for a major overhaul that affected script, staging, and casting. In November of 1998, Pimpernel Version 2.0, now under the auspices of Radio City Entertainment, met with a much more favorable reception. Rightly so since Robert Longbottom and librettist-lyricist Nan Knighton invigorated it with energy and character clarification and even provided some real dancing instead of the original production's clunky moving tableaus.
Now a trimmer Pimpernel Version 3.0 has moved into a smaller venue, the Neil Simon. The version 2.0 improvements in character, organization and staging remain in place along with the bright red curtain emblazoned with Sir Percy's Pimpernel crest (its seams tucked in to fit the smaller proscenium). What's different is that the ensemble has lost twelve actors and the orchestra four musicians. The scenery is essentially the same but some of the props are scaled down to fit the house and the bottom line. Holdovers from the original cast include David Cromwell reprising his adept switch from the French revolutionary Robespierre to the Prince of Wales, but the three leads are brand new.
Don't let all the talk about downsizing fool you. This is still a big musical . The cast may be smaller, but the improved interaction and romantic tension between three leads -- Sir Percy a.k.a. The Pimpernel (Ron Bohmer), Marguerite (Carolee Carmello) and Chauvelin (Marc Kudisch) -- compensate for the loss of the original production's bright new star, Douglas Sills. Actually, if there's a star in this production, it's Kudisch. He lends fire-breathing charisma and a terrific, big pop voice to the role of the villain. While Carolee Carmello, who displayed memorable vocal power in Hello Again and Parade, sounds somewhat more homogenized singing Wildhorn's songs, she looks smashing in the gorgeous pink pompadour donned in the "Storybook" number which originally got lost in Act II but now opens the show and smartly establishes the romantic triangle at the heart of the story. Ron Bohmer, while not as tall and dashing as Douglas Sills, is a seasoned and solid performer. In some ways he is closer to the movie Sir Percy, Leslie Howard, whom old timers will remember as loaded with charm but not an obvious swashbuckler in the Errol Flynn-Douglas Fairbanks mold .
This Pimpernel wisely makes no pretense of trying to turn Baroness Orczy's entertaining potboiler into something much loftier. It aims to be, and is, a lighthearted entertainment which tips its hat to a by-gone romantic genre -- a genre well-suited to Wildhorn's easy listening music. This spirit of irreverence also works in favor of the reduced cast size. The crowd scenes without crowds, the big duel that isn't really big (but has Marguerite get in on the sword-wielding act) seem more a case of apt stylization than impoverished circumstances.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is not the musical to lay to rest yearnings for the really grand musicals in the tradition of Fiddler on the Roof, My Fair Lady, West Side Story or the still current Les Miz. But then, as already noted, neither is its source in the realm of the classics that are taught in our schools. It is what it is. A B-Musical version of a b-movie hit -- an entertaining musical romp that mixes romance with heroics.
Our review of the first version of the show
Feature on show and the Baroness Orczy whose Pimpernel novels inspired it