The Scarlet Pimpernel
Paul Johnson | 14 Nov 2012 03:38am
The Tony Award nominated musical ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’, book and lyrics by Nan Knighton and music by Frank Wildhorn, made its debut on Broadway in 1977, however a production of ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ has yet to appear in London’s West End.
“They seek him here, they seek him there. Those Frenchies seek him everywhere. Is he in heaven or is he in hell? That damned elusive Pimpernel.” That rhyme is the only thing I remembered about ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ from the 1950s film so I wasn’t sure how it would work as a musical. But it worked – and how!. The show that I saw at the Wyllyott’s Theatre, Potters Bar could well have been a West End production. In the very capable hands of Green Room Productions ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ was a spectacular swash-buckling musical adventure. Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution and the ever present guillotine, the musical follows a band of Englishmen who use disguises, ruses and wit to foil the French army and rescue victims from the guillotine. They are led by their enigmatic hero known only by his calling card: the star-shaped flower known as the Scarlet Pimpernel. The action moves between the starkness of revolutionary France across the channel to England with its aristocratic finery. This production had a very talented cast. Leading the fun as Sir Percy Blakeney (The Scarlet Pimpernel), with an outstanding performance was Stewart Jordan who enriched every scene he was in. Conveying an intellectually dull English aristocrat with an hilariously funny foppish exterior he also moved effortlessly from romantic lead to swashbuckling hero. Jordan sang moving ballads with amazing clarity and led the more rousing songs Into The Fire and show-stopping The Creation Of Man with great gusto and frivolity. Comic songs require perfect timing and the latter was an absolute joy to watch and listen to. I thoroughly enjoyed watching ‘Sir Percy’ and the hilarious ‘Bounders’ – lovely comic performances from Graham Sawtell, Paul St James, Ryan Roedling, Pete Town, Tony Khublall, Elliot Moore, Sami Dean, Andy Nichol and Terry Salkeld. Other noteable standouts were Alastair Woodgate, who was superb as the evil Citizen Chauvelin, taking sinister to a new level at times without slipping into caricature. With a fine singing voice I particularly enjoyed his heartfelt rendition of Where’s The Girl?, which showed Chauvelin’s softer side. Fiona Wilkie was a delight as Marguerite St Just and showed her vocal skills off to perfection with a range of songs including the emotional I’ll Forget You. There were solid performances from Jack Malin as Marguerite’s brother Armand St Just and Michelle Loader as artist Marie Grosholz, who later marries and becomes Madame Tussaud. With twenty named characters and an ensemble of twenty two I won’t name the whole cast individually. Suffice to say this production was an excellent team effort. The ensemble as English aristocrats, servants and French aristocrats and peasants worked well supporting, with good vocals and dancing throughout. The costume design was in the very capable hands of Tony Wright of the Costume Workshop, Isle of Wight. The ball gowns sparkled and shimmered like Louis XVI chandeliers. The 68 wigs and satin buckled shoes completed the outfits. I thought the costumes worn by Sir Percy and the Bounders at The Royal Palace ball were wonderfully OTT – chiffon, taffeta, silk and lots of lace. These costumes were juxtaposed with the stark black worn by Chauvelin. I loved the set and staging of this show. The clever shaping of stage blocks at the front of the stage not only altered the shape but provided a mini amphitheatre for the ensemble to sit and watch the show at La Comadie Francaise. With steps to the sides adding height, every inch of the stage was used to maximum effect. The set design by Alastair Woodgate and Director John Hebden worked well. The huge guillotine was wheeled on and off along with balustrades, potted plants and arches. Mirrors were lowered from the flies and three huge arches were positioned to great effect in one of the songs as Chauvelin, Percy and Marguerite walked through them (I thought it represented their love triangle) indicating trysts and that each had overheard the other’s personal conversations. Well done to the backstage crew for the quick scene changes.
‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ is an uplifting story combining courage, romance, suspense and intrigue. Director John Hebden did a fantastic job with this large cast. It is a long show but it never felt as if it was dragging. This is due to the direction and enthusiastic performances by the talented cast. The audience were engaged throughout and there audible gasps when the first time the guillotine came down and chopped off the head of a French aristocrat, especially as the actor’s head went down as well. The spectacle, music, and beautiful costumes transported us all to a time and place in history. A wonderful piece of musical theatre and another success for Green Room Productions.
- : admin
- : 09/11/2012