The Scarlet Pimpernel – The John W. Engeman Theater – Theatre Review
For those unfamiliar with the story, the stage production of The Scarlet Pimpernel could be described as Les Misérables meets Robin Hood, with the emotional drama of The Phantom of the Opera. Set in 1794, France is in the height of that period of the French revolution known as The Reign of Terror, when aristocrats were being denounced as traitors every day and speedily sent to the guillotine. In the midst of this terrifying massacre rises our fictional hero, Percy Blakeney, an Englishman so moved by the plight of those endangered lives that he risks his own to infiltrate Paris and rescue them under the guise of a persona known only as The Scarlet Pimpernel.
Percy Blakeney is played by Christopher Behmke, who successfully portrays both sides of the titular character: the dashing, clever hero he is and the inane fop he pretends to be. His clear, strong voice shines in every song. He and the likewise talented men who play the members of the Pimpernel’s heroic band particularly inspire through their execution of the rousing “Into the Fire”.
Nate Hackmann plays the villain Chauvelin, who is driven by his passion for the revolution to catch the Pimpernel at all costs. His voice is deep and powerful, first bringing chilling resonance to “Madame Guillotine” and then remarkable pathos to “Where’s the Girl” that makes you strangely sympathetic toward the fearsome character.
Caught between the two men is Marguerite, played by Arianne Davidow, who sympathetically embodies this woman trapped by a series of circumstances that threaten her heart as well as her life. Davidow’s voice is both rich and beautifully sweet as she sings “When I Look at You” and other songs.
Musically, this show is a treat. This stage adaptation of the novel by Baroness Orczy features music by Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll & Hyde) and lyrics by Nan Knighton. Here, musical director Michael McBride brings the stirring and passionate songs to life with the help of an excellent live band.
Scenic design by Kyle Dixon is simple but effective. An arrangement of pimpernel emblems suspended over the stage are continually shifted to serve as set pieces, to suggest scene changes or to create general flow of movement. The apparent difficulties of maneuvering them unfortunately hamper their effect, seeming to have been in the way of the actors on more than one occasion but the background, however, is quite effective. An elegant damask pattern overlaid on a cyclorama lit with colored lights creates powerful mood lighting from scene to scene. The evening scene is especially impressive with the addition of a full moon and sparking stars effect. All of the lighting, designed by John Burkland is impeccable, making dramatic use of spotlight and shadows to complement the emotional tenor of each story beat and soaring song.
Costume design by Kurt Alger walks the line between applicable period garb and the somewhat confusing choice of steampunk fashion. Every costume is unique in some way that is visually interesting. A talented ensemble cast fills out the show, making the world feel full and populated especially in larger scenes such as the Prince’s ball in the second act. Director Paul Stancato not only directs this full and talented cast but choreographed the show as well. He also choreographed the exciting fight scenes along with Paul Denhardt.
This show is for anyone who is looking for an evening of swashbuckling heroism, passionate romance, gripping stakes, and at times a dash of absurd comedy. Come prepared to thrill along with the ups and downs of this rousing musical adventure.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is playing at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, NY from March 16 to April 30, 2023.
Run Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes including one 15-minute intermission.