Thursday, October 11, 2018

#TBT: CD Review: OBCR: The Scarlet Pimpernel

After you read this, you may think less of my taste in musicals, but I have to tell it like it is. Though he's Broadway's favorite whipping boy, Frank Wildhorn is really only responsible for the music in his shows (save for the occasional lyric and an odd "book" credit for a book-less show). And I think there's a lot of good music to be found in each of his scores. For better or worse, I have seen all but one of his Main Stem efforts (Dracula: The Musical), and though Bonnie and Clyde is my favorite, The Scarlet Pimpernel is right up there.

It was a fun, always entertaining show, full of laughs, romance and swashbuckling hi-jinx. (The book and lyrics were by Nan Knighton.) It was part A Tale of Two Cities, part Three Musketeers, part Les Miserables. It was also beautifully designed, especially the costumes by Jane Greenwood.

Mostly though, I loved the three original leads. And they come through amazingly on the Original Broadway Cast Recording. Even though I have to admit Terrence Mann is really doing Javert-lite here as the villain, Chauvelin; he is really good at it, and his sinister timbre is ideally suited to his two big numbers - stand outs, both - "Where's the Girl?" and "Falcon in the Dive." The always wonderful (and missed) Christine Andreas purrs and growls her way through the score, nailing the sensuality and mysteriousness of actress/chanteuse Marguerite. Her "show" numbers, "Vivez!" and "Storybook" are great fun, and she tears through a couple power ballads with finesse.  But the real star of the show - in a real breakout turn - was Douglas Sills. His charm and wit and joy at the role of Percy aka The Scarlet Pimpernel comes though on this recording. His "Prayer" is beautifully sung. But he really shines in the numbers where he leads big group numbers, particularly the stirring "Into the Fire," and the fun "The Creation of Man." He also figures into my two favorite songs on the whole disc.

First, there's the duet ballad, "Believe," with Ms. Andreas, which features tight harmony and soaring belting. Then there's the act one closer, "The Riddle," a catchy, clever vocal battle for all three principals.  All of this is not meant to exclude the contributions of the large ensemble who sing the hell out of their numbers - especially one of my all-time favorite opening numbers, "Madame Guillotine."

Is it Sondheim, Herman or Kander and Ebb? No. But it is entertaining, tuneful, and a fun throwback to the 90's. Plus, it is eons better than the final Broadway version of Jekyll and Hyde, which was waaay better as a concept album and pre-Broadway tryout.

Grade: B+

Fun Facts About The Scarlet Pimpernel...

  • The show was nominated for 3 1998 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Actor in a Musical (Douglas Sills).
  • The original cast included RENT original cast member, Gilles Chiasson, in a featured role, and a young actress named Sutton Foster in the ensemble.
  • The show famously (infamously?) had THREE opening nights, and THREE "versions." All told,  it ran for 39 total previews and 772 total performances. Versions 1.0 and 2.0 played the Minskoff Theatre. Version 3.0 played the Neil Simon Theatre.
  • Version 2.0 was led by Sills, Rachel York and Rex Smith; version 3.0 was led by Ron Bohmer, Carolee Carmello and Marc Kudish. Others who appeared throughout the entire run (in supporting and ensemble roles included: Jessica Phillips and Mark McGrath.
Here's a look back at the show:

Version 1.0:

Version 2.0:

Version 3.0:


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