Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Las Vegas

The Scarlet Pimpernel
Signature Productions
Review by Mary LaFrance

Also see Mary's reviews of When the Rain Stops Falling and The Nance


Cody Sims and Kaylie King
Photo by Teresa Isgriggs
Originating as a play and a series of novels by English Baroness Emma Orczy in the early 1900s, The Scarlet Pimpernel anticipated many later works that feature a hero with a secret identity, including Superman, Batman, and Zorro. The story takes place during the French Revolution, in the midst of Robespierre's Reign of Terror. Newly married English aristocrat Sir Percy Blakeney learns that his French wife (and retired actress) Marguerite has betrayed a French nobleman under his protection, leading to the Frenchman's death at the guillotine. Aghast at this apparent treachery, Percy shuns his wife and begins to lead a double life, adopting the outward persona of a foolish fop while secretly leading a group of his closest friends on daring raids to rescue French citizens from the guillotine. At the scene of every rescue, he leaves his mark—the scarlet pimpernel—in order to taunt the French authorities. Will the French discover the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel? Will Percy and Marguerite ever reconcile?

In 1997, this popular story was transformed into a mediocre Broadway musical by Frank Wildhorn (music) and Nan Knighton (book and lyrics). Under the direction of Douglas Baker, the current staging by Signature Productions is a valiant effort, but simply lacks the resources to overcome the weakness of the material. One must reluctantly accept that any production of The Scarlet Pimpernel is mostly an opportunity to showcase some pleasant tunes and gorgeous costumes. And this is exactly what Signature Productions delivers.

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a somewhat ridiculous musical, falling just short of so-bad-that-its-good. Despite a massive rewrite and multiple recastings, the show never found its footing on Broadway, and it's easy to see why. The plot devices don't bear scrutiny, and it is best to shrug them off. The book is simply bad. (A protracted scene in which a Frenchman tries to teach Sir Percy how to pronounce his name is excruciatingly unfunny.) By all accounts, the Broadway production was bizarrely under-choreographed, a deficiency that Signature Productions, like most amateur companies, is hardly in a position to remedy. Its a pity, too, because opportunities for great hoofing abound in the opening scene at the Comédie-Française, a wedding reception, a royal ball, the daring adventures of a Robin Hood style band of freedom fighters, and a musical number celebrating the extremes of male couture. Yet the dance numbers—"bits" would be more accurate—are mostly of the step-and-hop variety.

The curtain rises on "Storybook," a cheerful number performed by Marguerite and her chorus girls in magnificent costumes and wigs. The opening scene is dazzling. Unfortunately, nothing that follows lives up to this promise. Under Shauna Oblad's musical direction, the tunes are pleasant enough, and there are some lovely voices in the cast, most notably the three leads: Kaylie King as Marguerite, Cody Sims as Percy, and Joshua Meltzer as Chauvelin, Robespierre's cruel henchman (and Marguerite's spurned lover). The evening's best number by far is "When I Look at You," a charming duet by Marguerite and Percy.

Unfortunately, even the minimal choreography threatens to overwhelm the cast. You can feel their collective dread as they approach a dance number. It may not be the fault of choreographer Ashley Oblad, who has a far better excuse than her Broadway predecessor: With the exception of the Cupids (the charming Narée Asherian, Reese Carter, Olivia Hernando, and Maddie Simpson), Marguerite's graceful backup dancers at the Comédie-Française Francaise, most of the performers appear to have no dancing ability.

Acting skills are also largely absent, with three notable exceptions. Meltzer commands the stage as the relentless Chauvelin, and Sims makes a fine leading man as Sir Percy, although both he and his merry men could push their foppishness just a bit further. Especially in the scenes where he exasperates the ever-grim Chauvelin, Percy never seems quite silly enough to be fobbed off as an unthreatening piffle. In a smaller role, Ariel Johnson stands out with a natural and seemingly effortless performance as Dewhurst, one of Percy's warrior-fops.

Noah Goddard's sound design is less than ideal. The sound is muddy, and the pre-recorded music tracks are too loud, forcing the singers to be even louder. Given the amount of dramatic belting in Wildorn's score, the overall effect is hard on the ears.

For the most part, the costumes by Dawna Kenworthy and Douglas Baker are colorful and fun, especially those featured in the Comédie-Française number and those donned by Percy's men as they undergo their foppish transformation. Its unclear, however, why the ascetic Robespierre is dressed as a purple leprechaun, and why the Belgian spy Grappin (Percy in disguise) looks like a homeless version of Jack Sparrow—hardly someone who would inspire confidence in the fierce Chauvelin.

Although Brad Shelton's set designs are minimalist, his sailing ship is nicely executed. In place of elaborate scenery, the show relies on Jordan Dube's impressive lighting design.

The Scarlet Pimpernel continues through November 19, 2016 (Tuesday-Saturday at 7:30 pm, Saturday at 2 pm, and Monday, November 7, at 7:30 pm) at the Summerlin Library and Performing Arts Center, 1771 Inner Circle Dr., Las Vegas, NV 89134. For tickets ($30 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children 6-12) or further information, go to www.signatureproductions.net.

Cast
Marguerite: Kaylie King
Cupids: Narée Asherian, Reese Carter, Olivia Hernando, Maddie Simpson Chauvelin: Joshua Meltzer
Marie: Nikole York
Armand: Casey Moore
St. Cyr: Tim Polzin
Tussaud: Gregory Anderson
Coupeau: Meric Pittman
Mercier: Judd Whitney
Percy: Cody Sims
Dewhurst: Ariel Johnson
Ozzy: James Claflin
Farleigh: Michael Brown
Hal: Joseph Heywood
Ben: Jonathan Tuala
Jessup: Tim Polzin
Robespierre: Robert Langford
Servants: Narée Asherian, Reese Carter, Brooke Fabbi, Olivia Hernando, Dawn Merritt, Maddie Simpson, Annie Waggoner
Tarts: Olivia Hernando, Maddie Simpson
Sentry: Chad Ricks
Prince of Wales: Bart Pace
Ensemble: Jilliene Jaeger, Brandy Sims


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