Review: THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL Can “Hold Their Heads Even Higher” with Their Stunning Production.
Updated: Apr 5
Batman. Superman. Wonder Woman. Zorro. These heroes would not exist today if it weren't for the Scarlet Pimpernel, the world's first superhero. Based on Baroness Orczy's play and novel of the same name, The Scarlet Pimpernel takes place during the height of the French Revolution. With aristocrat after aristocrat being decapitated by "Madame Guillotine", chivalrous Englishman Sir Percy Blakeney takes it upon himself to rescue as many as possible in the guise of The Scarlet Pimpernel. After numerous film/tv adaptations featuring the likes of Leslie Howard and Anthony Andrews, the story was adapted into a musical in 1997 by Nan Knighton and Frank Wildhorn.
I must admit I was a little hesitant in seeing The Scarlet Pimpernel because I was starting to believe Frank Wildhorn was a one-hit wonder on Broadway. That one hit wonder of course being Jekyll & Hyde, a great musical with a fantastic score despite what the critics said. His latest productions that I've seen (Wonderland, Bonnie and Clyde) just didn't measure up. I had this sinking premonition that I was going to be seeing yet another bomb. I've never been happier to be more wrong; The John W. Engeman Theater's production of The Scarlet Pimpernel is spectacular.
After staging a wonderful production of Jekyll & Hyde in 2017, artistic director Rich Dolce reached out to director Paul Stancato and said let's have another triumph and stage The Scarlet Pimpernel. Stancato took it upon himself to re-conceive the show and seek the blessing of Wildhorn himself, which he did receive. In 2015, Wildhorn stated in his PBS special Frank Wildhorn & Friends, that the musical was in talks to be revived again. This production is a definite strong contender for Broadway and that is due to Stancato's brilliant direction and choreography (including fencing with Paul Denhardt).
The set was very intriguing and will absolutely draw you in. Scenic designer Kyle Dixon takes a simple minimalistic set and gives the stage great depth. Pimpernels are suspended all over the stage and are used as various set pieces transforming into Sir Percy's personal library and an outdoor garden to name a few. The cast/crew definitely experienced some difficulty maneuvering the flowers across the stage; I'm sure these transitions will improve with time. The backdrop features a patterned silk design emblematic of power and wealth. Throughout the production, the stage and backdrop are exquisitely lit emanating the mood of each scene. The lighting design by John Burkland is the perfect complement to Dixon's set; Bravo, gentleman. The sound design by Laura Shubert was pristine. Kurt Alger made a daring choice with his costume design by incorporating steampunk fashion in addition to the typical French fashions of the time. It made me wonder if Alger was inspired at all by the recent video game Steelrising.
The band led by Ben Kiley was fantastic. While the score is nowhere near as great as Jekyll & Hyde, this is one of Wildhorn's better ones. The audience loved every song; they screamed and cheered for every single number echoing a rock concert. The cast is spectacular led by the amazing Christopher Behmke as Sir Percy Blakeney/The Scarlet Pimpernel; he truly gives a tour de force performance. Behmke showcases a perfect balance of his comedic abilities (as the foolish fop Sir Percy) and dramatic skills (as his daring alter ego). Behmke knocked each of his musical numbers out of the park; his "Into the Fire" and "She Was There" will definitely have you on your feet. Matching Behmke's tour de force performance is Nathaniel Hackmann as Chauvelin, Sir Percy Blakeney's arch-enemy. Like Behmke, Hackmann captivates the stage whenever he sets foot upon it and will send chills down your spine with his deep, rich voice. His performance of "Where's the Girl?" was quite haunting. Hackmann easily conveys the ruthlessness and villainy of Chauvelin. I'm sure he'll channel this dark side when he tackles the roll of Biff in the Broadway production of Back to the Future: The Musical next season; Congratulations Nathaniel! As Marguerite St. John, the object of affection for both Sir Percy and Chauvelin, is Arianne Davidow. It is not an easy task to take on a role that was written for Linda Eder; sorry NBC, Linda Eder will forever be known as the Voice. Davidow does a wonderful job and gives one of the best vocal performances of the evening with the duet "You're My Home." She sings this with Joe Hornberger who gives an equally strong performance as Marguerite's brother, Armand St. Just. There duet was my favorite number of the evening and will always be one to remember. Another highlight of this ensemble was the hilarious Jonathan Cobrda as Elton, a member of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Cobrda's comedic timing was impeccable.
I had the honor of attending the opening night performance of The Scarlet Pimpernel and it was truly a delight. During the curtain call, Rich Dolce surprised the cast and audience with an appearance by Broadway legend Terrence Mann, who played the original Chauvelin in the Broadway production of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Mann stepped up on stage to speak and said, "This was AMAZING! He said after seeing this theater and production, he felt like he just took a trip to Magic Land." If that isn't a great seal of approval, I don't know what is.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is running at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport thru April 30, 2023.