Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Scarlet Pimpernel
Actor's Youth Theatre

Also see Gil's reviews of Romeo and Juliet, Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club and Oklahoma!


Liam Thibeault and Cast
You have to give credit to the original producers and creators of the musical The Scarlet Pimpernel. When the it first premiered on Broadway in 1997, with music by Frank Wildhorn and book and lyrics by Nan Knighton, it was a bit of a disappointment. But instead of just throwing in the towel, they rejiggered the whole thing. They cut, added, and moved songs and scenes around, even rewriting parts of the book including adding a more successful ending, and the end result was a vastly improved show. I saw both versions on Broadway and was very impressed with how much better the show became. So, it's fortunate that they did what they did, or the musical would not be performed as often as it is today. And it's also fortunate the Actor's Youth Theatre has found three very capable leads to portray the characters entangled in the romantic triangle at the center of this story of intrigue, secret identities, and swashbuckling derring-do.

Set in the late 1700s during the "Reign of Terror" in France, the musical, like the original play and novel by Baroness Orczy, follows an English nobleman, Percy Blakeney, who leads a double life. While he appears to almost everyone as a foppish aristocrat whose main concern is wearing the finest clothing, unbeknownst to even his French wife Marguerite he is also "the Scarlet Pimpernel." Like Robin Hood and his merry men, the Pimpernel and his gang of other secretive Englishman wear disguises and seek to do justice—by rescuing victims in France before they face the guillotine. That Percy believes his wife might just be a French spy in cahoots with her former lover, the high ranking French officer Chauvelin, only adds to the intrigue and plot twists of the story.

Liam Thibeault, who was so impressive in Southwest Shakespeare's King John a few months back, is Percy, and he is delivering a winning performance. He manages to effectively portray both the comical side of the character and the more adventurous daredevil side equally. Behind the foppish fa├žade, Thibeault expertly shows us the intelligent, caring and loving man, but he also has a blast in the comical prancing about that the character does. Likewise, Jessica Sinodis is very good as Marguerite, especially in how she achieves a measure of mystery in the part. While we don't quite know if she is a spy or not, the fact that Percy believes that she is puts a strain on their relationship. Both Thibeault and Sinodis are quite good at showing us how that uncertainty affects how they interact with each other, with Sinodis' facial expressions and body language excellent as the woman who can't quite understand why the man she married has changed so much. They both also manage decent English and French accents. While the two struggle just a bit on some of the sustained high notes in the score's rangier power ballads, they still deliver touching, engaging and extremely likable performances.

As Chauvelin, Isaac Dowdle has the right level of menace and determination and he also manages a capable French accent. His deep voice achieves some nice notes in his singing, the best in the cast. The obsession Chauvelin has with capturing the Pimpernel transfers to his delivery of the lyrics, almost spitting some of them out. It is an engaging performance with assured singing. All three also get to participate in some fun swordplay, and all appear to be quite experienced swordsmen and women and also seem to be having a blast playing these parts. The fact that Thibeault is only 15 and Sinodis and Dowdle are both just 16 only adds to the joy of the experience in how effective such young actors are in these parts. All of the leads and the ensemble do well with their line delivery, with Konnor Smith as Marguerite's brother, and Maria Boas as a French woman who comes in to play later in the story, both very good in their portrayals as well as their ability to deliver acceptable French accents.

As in most youth theatre productions, there are a few actors who don't sing quite as well as the rest of the cast, or occasionally are out of tune or off pitch, and there are times when the un-miked cast needs to project more, but those moments are few and far between. Director Julie Clement stages the proceedings effectively. I'm assuming she also choreographed the very exciting and fast-paced sword fighting sequences as well, since no fight director is listed, and also coached the actors in their impressive accents. Choreographer Mackenzie Mitchell provides some nice moves for the few ensemble numbers; I especially like the dramatic hand gestures during "Madame Guillotine." Musical director Tracie Jones achieves a nice sound, not only from the small band but the cast as well. Mike Smyth's set design is fairly simple, yet still manages to transform in a simple way into the ship on which Percy and his men sail to France. Aurelie Flores' costumes are simply stunning and Josh Lindblom's lighting achieves some nice stage effects.

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a fun musical, filled with humor and intrigue. Actor's Youth Theatre's production shows that a cast of talented teenagers is more than capable of delivering the story in a comical and rousing way with winning results.

The Actor's Youth Theatre production of The Scarlet Pimpernel runs through April 4th, 2015, with performances at the Tuscany Theatre, 861 N Higley Rd, Suite 105, Gilbert, AZ 85234. Tickets and information for this and upcoming productions can be found at actorsyouththeatre.org or by calling (480) 907-7050.

Music by Frank Wildhorn
Book and Lyrics by Nan Knighton
Director: Julie Clement
Choreographer: Mackenzie Mitchell
Music Director: Tracie Jones
Set Designer: Mike Smyth
Costume Designer: Aurelie Flores
Lighting Designer: Josh Lindblom
Stage Manager: Rebekah Avila
Cast:
Percy Blakeney: Liam Thibeault
Marguerite St. Just: Jessica Sinodis
Chauvelin: Isaac Dowdle
Armand St. Just: Konnor Smith
Marie Grosholtz: Maria Boas
St. Cyr/Prince of Wales: Noah Delgado
Tussaud: Logan Whiting
Mercier: Zach Cacciacarro
Coupeau: Julia Jordan
Jessup: Sophia Bavishi
Ozzy: Kaden Holl
Dewhurst: Bailey Gorman
Elton: Brennan Reh
Farleigh: Ben Wright
Hal: Josh Robinaugh
Ben: Chris Braddock
Robespierre: Bryce Dilullo
Tarts: Brook Larosk, AJ Marshall, Meg Farnsworth, Julia Jordan, Tamara Benham, Emily Wright
Servant Girls: Mackenzie Nelson, Sophia Bavishi, Emily Wright, Sarah Edmunds, Kylee Christensen, Ashton Flake
Ensemble: Bailey Madsen, Alyssa Calligan, Daisy Calligan, Allyson Lundell, Jay Lundell, Janae Hirsch, Tori Richter, Tommee Sampson, Lauren Horsley


Photo: Lisa Webb / Southwest Shots Photography

--Gil Benbrook


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix


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