When SCERA announced it would stage the regional premieres of two recent Broadway hits, some supposed the theater was getting ahead of itself, hastily scheduling big-name shows without considering whether it had the resources to do them well.
SCERA’s production of “Titanic: The Musical” silenced the skeptics (among whom I was one), and now the season comes to a superior end with “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” a grandly entertaining musical comedy/drama, directed by Jerry Elison, with a splendid score and several luminous performances.
The time is the late 1700s, in the midst of one of those revolutions the French were always having. Under the single-minded leadership of the wormy Chauvelin (Scott Montgomery), the guillotine is kept in constant motion, often at the expense of justice.
Sir Percy Blakeney (Brad Montgomery), an English dandy, wants to fight Chauvelin, spurred by the heartbreaking suspicion that his new wife Marguerite (Brianna Lea Gray) fed Chauvelin information that led to the death of a comrade. Percy accurately describes himself and his friends as “useless dilettantes” — well-educated but unequipped for combat — so they elect to fight the new regime by outsmarting it.
Their acts of giddy terrorism — which include things like unleashing several dozen geese as a means of interrupting a beheading — are always accompanied by a note from “The Scarlet Pimpernel.” Chauvelin becomes obsessively determined to identify and capture the scoundrel. And the race is on!
The show begins darkly, with Chauvelin and the doomed St. Cyr (Michael Jensen) singing the ghastly “Madame Guillotine.” Not long after that, Percy sings his haunting “Prayer,” in which he bemoans his new bride’s apparently traitorous behavior. The music throughout (by Frank Wildhorn, who also scored “Jekyll & Hyde” — and it shows) tends toward the ominous, with a few notable exceptions. Chief among them is “The Creation of Man,” a delightfully funny number that explains Percy’s ability to conceal his identity: He and his cohorts (Spencer Hall, Brandon Cecala, Michael Jensen, Kevin Carlin, Tony Winkel, Nathan Lundquist) are such foppish clotheshorses, no one would ever suspect them of being the heroic Scarlet Pimpernel.
The six men who portray Percy’s bounders are a delightful crew, playing the amusing roles for all they’re worth. Jason Button also has a nice turn as the Prince of Wales.
Scott Montgomery is great as the coldly devious Chauvelin, calling to mind Javert, from that other show about that other French Revolution. Montgomery brings honest feelings to the role, fleshing him out to be more than just The Villain.
Brianna Lea Gray’s lovely singing voice is Marguerite’s main feature. The character, oblivious to Percy’s secret life, is rather flatly written, leaving Gray to use her considerable acting prowess merely to stand on the sidelines and watch.
At the lead is Brad Montgomery, whose magnificent voice and fine-tuned acting ability sparkle throughout the show. His comic scenes opposite his brother are marvelously funny, as Percy smoothly convinces Chauvelin he is not the Scarlet Pimpernel; his dramatic moments, conveyed mostly in song, are empowered by his gorgeous voice and earnest delivery. Fans of musical theater will love this diverting, sophisticated show.
The postscript addressing SCERA's unprofessional attitude toward sets was met with much support from the cast members, who were even more bothered by it than I was. No response from SCERA.