By now, most readers of this review have likely seen a production of The Scarlet Pimpernel or at least know the score from one of the three CDs available of the show. The show played Broadway a few years back and was revised not once, but twice after its original opening. The production currently touring is most similar to the final Broadway version, with a scaled down set and cast. The Aronoff Center in Cincinnati is currently hosting the touring company.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is a fun, energetic musical full of romance, deceit, mystery, swashbuckling heroics, and genuinely laughable humor. An audience member looking for an epic story with deep intellectual or socially important themes may not like this show. However, if one is wishing to be entertained by a smart book, a melodic score, and a great cast, then this is a show for you.
The lead role of Percy is magnificently portrayed by Ron Bohmer, who performed the same role in the final Broadway version. He has a strong and wonderful voice, a commanding stage presence, and the comic flair that is required for the role. Amy Bodnar is suitable in the female lead as well. A rather unique situation occurred during the performance reviewed, in that two performers went on in the role of the villain, Chauvelin. William Paul Michals normally performs the role and began the performance as usual. However, after singing his first big Act One solo, "Falcon In the Dive", he was replaced in the role by Aaron Paul, who had to that point been in the ensemble. The announcement that Mr. Michals could not longer continue in the role due to illness was made by Mr. Bohmer during the next scene. Both Mr. Michals and Mr. Paul had exceptional voices and the latter deserves special praise for changing roles with very little notice and performing the role very well. Mr. Paul is considerably younger looking than the usual performer and Mr. Bohmer adlibbed (to great humor) a line about Chauvelin looking quite younger than the last time he had seen him in his first scene with the new performer. The other ensemble members give spirited and professional performances as well.
Robert Longbottom is the director of the tour after having taken over the troubled Broadway production after its original opening. His retooled and greatly revised version reopened to much-improved reviews and this production is a scaled-down reproduction of his treatment. The show's book is now clearer, more concise, and more believable. He has dropped, added, and altered the placement of songs to the betterment of the musical. The score consists of very strong melodies supplied by composer Frank Wildhorn and are always serviceable lyrics by Nan Knighton. Mr. Wildhorn, composer of the scores for Jekyll & Hyde and The Civil War on Broadway, is often criticized as writing songs with too much of a pop sound and not writing "theatrical music". While his music is indeed more effective in songs dealing with feelings and emotions rather than those that advance the plot forward, Mr. Wildhorn's efforts here are appropriate, moving, and memorable. "She Was There", 'Into The Fire", and "Where's The Girl" are standout songs. The set and costume design, though scaled down from the Broadway production, is beautiful and effective. Painted scrims are used in many scenes and are simple, yet attractive.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is an enjoyable and professionally presented musical in its current touring production. Theatergoers will smile and laugh and be entertained, and that is what this show is all about. This production continues in Cincinnati through January 28 and then continues on with performances in Florida and then Ohio again.
-- Scott Cain