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Atlanta by Harper s.

Scarlet Fever: An Interview with Marc Kudisch

Come September, Broadway will open its floodgates as productions stream in for what will be one of the busier seasons to roll around in quite a while. And, as many of these new productions test the water for the first time, one sturdy musical will quietly slip back to Broadway after soaking up a little Southern hospitality and fine-tuning over the summer. Frank Wildhorn's The Scarlet Pimpernel began its journey during the infamous season of Ragtime and The Lion King. As those two titans fought violently for the title of Musical of the Millennium, this romantic, fun little show was pretty much horse-whipped and hung out to dry, much to the dismay of Wildhorn fans everywhere. But, after much recasting and some minor revamping, The Scarlet Pimpernel is poised to make a second grand return to Broadway, with swashing buckles and heaving bosoms in tow.

Prior to the show's last pre-Broadway stop in Atlanta, I spoke with The Pimpernel's Marc Kudisch, who stars as the dogged villain 'Chauvelin.'

Marc KudischHS: How have the stops in Texas gone so far?

MK: Very well. We started in Dallas, of course, and it was a pleasant surprise. We just didn't know how [the audience] would take to it, and we were playing in such a large house there. It was our first performance in front of an audience. We had teched for, like, three days prior in New York, so it was our first real run. And, from then on, it's been great.

HS: Were you familiar with the show prior to your involvement?

MK: I think that all of us had seen the show in New York; certainly Carolee, who had been involved with it from the very beginning, in the reading process. I know that Ron had seen it. I had seen the first run of it. Then, for the second run, they got me tickets so I could see the changes before going into the final call. But, not that that has had any effect on the way any of us are playing the roles now.

HS: When did you first get involved with the whole Scarlet Pimpernel saga which has been unfolding lately?

MK: I had auditioned for it originally. Frank had known me, but I really wasn't right for what they were initially going for, a little on the young side. But, as they were going through and rethinking certain things ... I know with Chauvelin, they really rethought the direction they wanted to go in with the role. When I had first auditioned for it, I was up for both roles, Percy and Chauvelin. It was when I started singing Chauvelin's music that Bobby [Longbottom] really began to see it. He actually saw me as the 'Percy' at first. Thank God, Ron Melrose, our musical director, who had heard me sing Chauvelin's music, was like, "You should really hear him sing this stuff!" Once I did, that's when Bobby began to see mean as the 'Chauvelin.'

HS: That's interesting that you were considered for both roles. I saw the revised show in New York last Christmas, and those are such different roles to undertake!

Marc Kudisch as Chauvelin
Marc as Chauvelin
MK: Oh, yeah! Knock on wood, it's a wonderful compliment that they thought I was versatile enough to go in either direction. For a while, they were saying to me, "Well, what do you see yourself as?" And I thought that I could do Percy, but vocally ... I am a baritone, a real baritone. I'm not very lyrical. I'm more Verdi, if you know where I'm coming from, more of a dark baritone. Percy's music was a little high for me. Also, not to say that I couldn't sing it, but it's not truly where my voice sits. Whereas, Chauvelin's music, which is basically as high as Percy's ... it's just where it sits and how it sits. I hit these high notes left and right, but I get to live in a medium range. The quality of my voice, also, is much darker, more dramatic. I had always seen myself as a Chauvelin, and I'm very glad to be doing it.

HS: How have you enjoyed being involved with the whole "new" process, the new cast, etc., with Carolee and Ron?

MK: It's great! This is the absolute ideal situation in which to do this show right now, and that is why I am glad to be doing it. So often when you're doing a new show, it can be very hard and stressful because there are other energies that are involved, other things to be thought of. You know, they're thinking in terms of commercialism, they're thinking in terms of acceptance, they're thinking in terms of a lot of other things that can get in the way of being purely creative. You know what I mean? A lot of time, you want to do a show, but when you originally, initially open it up, there's all that nervous energy and all those hopes and desires and there's all that tweaking going on and decisions being made. For whatever the reasons, those may not necessarily be the right decisions for the best interest of the show itself. You've got the different producers and the different people who've got their opinions, and everybody's opinions must be respected.

Well, they've been through all that with this, not once but twice. We got to start from the ground up. The second time they did it, they were still doing the show at night and rehearsing [the revisions] during the day. Then, they actually closed down for a week so they could retech all the things that they wanted to do. We've had the luxury of having a full rehearsal process and, with the three of us being new, it was very wonderful for us. It wasn't being "plugged in"; we were rediscovering the show. Essentially rehearsing our show, because our three energies are so different from the people that have done it in the past. That is going to change the intent of everything. I'm not saying words necessarily changed, but intent did. And in the intent changing, I can tell you a lot of choreography changed, because the intent of the choreography was different.

HS: Has anything major been changed since the prior New York revisions?

MK: Oh, definitely!

HS: What else, aside from the choreography, has taken a turn since Broadway?

MK: The feeling of the show is different. It's darker, for one. In a way, it is also kind of funnier. Comedy is now coming out of situation, not necessarily out of trying to funny in a moment. There is silliness that's still there, but the silliness comes out of the necessity of the silliness existing, given the situation.

Ron Bohmer and Marc Kudisch
Ron Bohmer and Marc Kudisch
Like, the whole "Creation of Man" number is fabulous. It was wonderful before, but it even more wonderful now because it is so clearly defined as to why these men must be this way. And it's great, because at the beginning of the show, when [Percy] says that they're going to be fops, there is dissidence among them all. It's not just an accepted thing; these guys are like, "What are you talking about?" So, we see that the silliness and the foppishness come out of necessity; it comes out of a certain graveness. At the same moment, we can turn it around and be completely serious again. The comedy doesn't destroy the ongoing story, which has to have a certain danger to it, or what's the point?

HS: I know exactly what you mean. Do you think that, since it has changed so much, it will fair well in this upcoming, crowded season?

MK: Yes, I do. One, I believe that it is a good show. I have always believed that it is a good show. I just thought that it needed to find itself. I think that in Bobby's hand, we have a good director. The performers are wonderful. Ron and Carolee are fabulous. The whole entire company is fabulous, those people who are still remaining from the New York process and the new people in the show. It's really clean, really sharp; it's really fast. The music is gorgeous and even more with people like Ron and Carolee. You really get the theatricality of the music. The voices are beautiful, but they are wonderful actors, too. You're really getting the sense of the story. I think truly for the first time, you really get the storyline between these three people. You get the love triangle, the tension. It's not about one star performer; it's about the show, about the plot. And it's all heightened and strong, which makes for a more exciting evening. I can tell you from fans of the show that have come and seen us here ... cause in a way that was a worry, because there are so many fans and they might be upset with the changes and all. But it's been wild! They've come and seen it, and they love it. They loved the past version in New York, but they love this one as its own entity. It's been interesting for them, because, gosh knows, they know it better than anybody! They've seen it a million times. But, we've been fortunate. So far we've only gotten great response from people who are seeing it for the first time and from those who have seen it dozens.

HS: Well, I can sincerely say that I am looking forward to seeing it again. I admit, there was a little lingering uncertainty in my mind when I saw it in New York. It supposedly had its good points and bad points. But, after seeing it, I was totally transformed into a fan by the production. It was wonderful.

If you don't mind me asking, I would like to hear a little about you, personally. I understand that you are involved with the lovely Kristin Chenoweth. How have y'all been doing?

MK: Great. It's been kind of hard; we haven't really seen each other all summer. When we were in rehearsal in New York, she was out in Los Angeles shooting Annie, the TV remake. Once she got back, we had a day and a half together, and then I had to go out on the road to do this. I can't wait to go home! It's going great, though. We've been engaged for a year and a half now.

HS: Were you with her at the Tony Awards when she won the big prize?

MK: Yes. It was great! Was it a surprise? No! (laughing) I knew she would win the day I met her.

HS: I think that everyone knew she was going to win! The buzz was "Kristin, Kristin, Kristin!" everywhere.

MK: I knew they were going to announce that right after she did her number up there, so the nerve racking thing was making sure she could change in time! If she won, she did not want to accept the award in her 'Sally' dress! They rehearsed and rehearsed, and she got that change down. Everything was worth that change!

HS: I was thrilled that she won. Kristin is a true talent.

MK: I know; it's just who she is. We're doing a workshop of Thoroughly Modern Millie in October, and she is going to get to play 'Millie.' Now, finally, she is going to be given the chance to go full-force into a character.

HS: That will be great. Is that musical planning to happen soon? I know that she is going into Epic Proportions next month.

MK: She is in Epic Proportions now. I don't know when they are really planning on doing it. I have feeling that Millie will hit Broadway maybe fall of 2000. They had been talking about getting it in for the spring, but I just don't see it happening. It's such a full season already.

The Scarlet Pimpernel, starring Ron Bohmer, Carolee Carmello, and Marc Kudisch, will play Atlanta's Fabulous Fox Theatre August 25 - 30. The schedule is as follows: Wednesday through Monday, 8:00PM, with 2:00 matinees Saturday and Sunday. Contact Ticketmaster at (404) 817 - 8700 for single tickets or Theatre of the Stars at (404) 252 - 8960 for group reservations. The Scarlet Pimpernel is presented by the Theatre of the Stars.

Broadway previews begin September 10 at the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd Street. Contact Ticketmaster at (212) 307 - 4100 for tickets.

Harper ;-)

Scarlet Pimpernel photos by Joan Marcus.