The Scarlet Pimpernel

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The stars of “The Scarlet Pimpernel” at Hale Centre Theatre West Valley are the sets and costumes. The former (by Andrew Barrus) are the most elaborate in the theater’s history, and they are truly impressive. The latter (by Amy Glaser Frary) are an exquisite assortment on loan from the Broadway touring company of this show.

Somewhere behind these two feasts for the eyes is the show itself, which, directed by Bruce Bredeson, occasionally gets lost in all the commotion. And at certain moments, “lost” is literally the right word: Depending on where you’re sitting in the Hale’s round theater, you may not be able to see the people who are speaking because a bridge or a prison or a wall is obstructing your view. Have we simply put TOO MUCH stuff onto this stage? In some cases, yes, I believe we have.

Staging aside, the lavish production is a bit disjointed in the first act but much better in the second; hopefully, the audience will have followed it well enough before intermission to appreciate the exciting events that take place after.

For it is an exciting show, full of romance, humor and adventure. One might say it’s swashbuckling, even if this particular production does not buckle all the swashes it ought to.

The story concerns the French Revolution, when citizens were being executed at random. The head beheader is Chauvelin (Douglas W. Irey), whom I have before described as wormy but whom I now consider to be more of a weasel. He pines for French actress Marguerite St. Just (Diana Dayley Bowler), who is marrying English dandy Percy Blakeney (Daniel Beck).

When Percy suspects his new bride of having helped Chauvelin in his cause, he sets out to end the tyranny once and for all, aided by a group of friends as foppish as he is. They go by the name Scarlet Pimpernel, and they work in secret to outsmart the French army (how hard can that be?), the idea being that if they act like ninnies in real life, no one will ever suspect the dashing Scarlet Pimpernel is them.

The musical director is Anne Puzey, and the singing is uniformly strong and beautiful. Irey, Bowler and Beck each have solos, and they perform without flaw. Marilyn May Montgomery’s choreography, used sparingly, adds immeasurably to a few numbers (particularly the highly amusing “Creation of Man” song).

The trouble is in the humanity of the story, which does not manifest itself easily amidst all the noise. Beck acts well, but his stuffy aristocratic dialect makes some of his words incoherent. It sounds like he’s speaking with a mouthful of cereal and trying not to spill any of it. We miss several good jokes that way.

Elsewhere, even when the enunciation is clear, the emotions of the story are often crowded out. It is like trying to have a heart-to-heart talk in the middle of a circus.

Should you go? It doesn’t have as much electricity as it should, but it is a lavish spectacle.

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