Sound Advice by Joseph Molnar
The Scarlet Pimpernel

Two years after the first Jekyll & Hyde CD appeared, Frank Wildhorn released another recording of songs from one of his musicals in progress. This one was based on Baroness Orczy's stories about the world's first superhero, The Scarlet Pimpernel. This time the songs were presented in pop arrangements with no care given towards making this sound like a theatrical recording. At first I didn't give this recording much thought, especially not being too fond of his Jekyll & Hyde. Upon closer inspection though, I thought the lyrics by Nan Knighton were far superior to Mr. Bricusse's for Jekyll & Hyde and much more specific to the story and character. But confusion ensued once again; there was a synopsis, but no hint as to how they might fit into the story. I wasn't too attracted to them because of this and once again, there seemed to be too many ballads. Being presented in pop arrangements was a turn off as well. As a result I quickly dismissed it as a theater piece and never thought it would be produced on stage. Cast in the leads were Chuck Wagner, who has a rich baritone, and Linda Eder, once again returning to do the honors as leading lady, Marguerite. Peabo Bryson makes a guest appearance on the disc as well in the lovely pop ballad, "You are My Home." Once again, like Jekyll & Hyde, I had doubted its credibility as a theater piece.

Since I had doubted it would even make it to any stage, let alone Broadway, I must say I was shocked and pleasantly surprised when I attended the last preview of The Scarlet Pimpernel. What I found was a most enjoyable evening of theater filled with wonderful music that was evocative of 18th century Europe. As a result, the original Broadway cast recording of The Scarlet Pimpernel is the most satisfying recording of any of Mr. Wildhorn's scores. But it could have been better. He has sharpened and refined what was good on the concept recording with only a few flaws. One flaw is Chauvelin's second solo in the first act, "Where's the Girl?" It sounds as if the sound engineer accidentally turned on a radio switched to lite-FM. But fortunately it is reprised later in the show and sounds much more theatrical and less pop. The others being Marguerite's "Vivez" which closely resembles "Storybook" too much and "You are My Home" which also has too much of a pop feel to it. At least Mr. Wildhorn's romantic music is more suited to this story of love and betrayal than Jekyll & Hyde. Nan Knighton's lyrics are sharper and clearer than on the concept recording as well. Unlike Mr. Wildhorn's Jekyll & Hyde, you feel instantly transported back in time from the very first note of the thrilling overture. With the exception of a few numbers, the score is much more consistent in style and overall tone. This recording would also have been helped had it had some of Ms. Knighton's wonderfully witty book. Missing from the CD are the spoken lead-ins to songs and dialogue connecting songs. In the show, "Believe" and "Vivez" flow from one right into the other with only a few lines of dialogue to break them up. On the disc, the dialogue is missing and it sounds odd that Marguerite starts singing "Vivez" for no reason at all. Douglas Sills makes an auspicious debut as a leading man showing off a strong tenor that seems much more suited to the role than Chuck Wagner's baritone. He does exceptional work, especially on "Into the Fire," "They Seek Him Here" and "She was There." It is also nice to have Broadway vets, Christine Andreas and Terrence Mann back on Broadway and in the same musical. They are perfectly cast as Marguerite and Chauvelin, who are former lovers. Both are at the top of their form. Christine Andreas possesses one of the finest soprano voices to ever grace a Broadway stage and it has been far too long since her last engagement. Not only that, she is a consummate actress as well and it shows through on her many solos. She ranks right up there with the many other Broadway divas such as Patti LuPone, Betty Buckley and Bernadette Peters. She also gets to sing the better tunes in the show, "When I Look at You," "Only Love" and "Storybook." Terrence Mann, as always, turns in a solid performance, bringing to mind the role he created on Broadway of Inspector Javert. Unfortunately he is stuck with the worst music in the show, "Where's the Girl?" and "Falcon in the Dive" but his strong acting ability helps elevate this material. At least he gets to sing in the terrific act one finale "The Riddle" with his co-stars.

Overall, the performances by the 3 leads could not be topped and the score is a bit uneven. So without a doubt, this is my favorite recording of a Frank Wildhorn score to date. Despite its minor flaws, I highly recommend this recording.

Join me in two weeks when I will finally be reviewing the original London cast recording of The Goodbye Girl and Ragtime: Themes from the Hit Musical.

'Til then, happy listening!

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