MAGNA — There are few things that can tempt me to leave my warm, cozy apartment on a cold winter’s eve, but a good musical is among them—especially a classic. So, despite the frigid temperatures, I bundled up and headed out to see the Empress Theatre’s latest production, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and it proved to be worth the trip.
Set in France and England during the French Revolution, the play (with music by Frank Wildhorn and lyrics and book by Nan Knighton) follows Percy Blakeney, a wealthy British aristocrat turned rogue rescuer, along with his friends as they work to save those on route to Madame Guillotine. But French officer, Chauvelin, may be on to their plan, and Percy’s wife, Marguerite, just may be working with the enemy.
The quaint Empress Theatre provides a unique setup for the story. Surround seating offers the audience a close-up view of the action. The stage was so close, in fact, that I really felt (and at times became) a part of the performance. While it was fun to sit so close to the actors, the stage did have its disadvantages. For example, an actor in just the right position can easily block the view of the rest of the stage, so it may be wise to sit higher in order to catch all the action.
Curtis Nash gave a very enthusiastic performance as Percy. He had just the right facial expression for each situation, commanding attention each time he entered the stage. His voice was strong and clear as he seamlessly switched back and forth between the fearless leader and the delicate lace lover. And oh, he “do shimmer so.”
Percy and his group of “frilly” men stole the show—and caused a few tears of laughter as well. Each time the group (played by Steven Cundick, Logan Gifford, Dane Camp, Colby Nash, Josh Astle, and Eric Barney) assembled for a scene, I had to bite my cheek to contain the fits of laughter trying to work their way out. Their chemistry together on stage was perfectly hilarious as they pranced about in their stockings and flowered hats.
Megan Cundick, who played Marguerite St. Just, gave a somewhat timid performance as the famous French actress. She maintained a French accent and seemed to grow into her character as the play progressed, but I would have liked to see her put more gusto behind her performance so as to let her voice shine.
Brian Douros captured the creepy persona of Chauvelin, sulking about the stage and bursting into fits of rage. His powerful vocals were always clearly heard, even during group numbers. Robbi O’Kelley was terrifying as Robespierre, Chauvelin’s French counterpart. Her ruthless demeanor made the revolution more realistic and even had me frightened of being sent to the guillotine.
Director and set designer Jake Anderson took a unique spin on the classic tale, emphasizing the terror of the time period and the bravery of the characters. A large guillotine stood erect at the top of the set throughout the performance, standing as a chilling reminder of the historical event and just what the characters were fighting for. But Anderson also took every opportunity to provide a laugh. For example, even as the men rushed around Paris, plucking up prisoners, their costumes were outlandishly unbelievable so as to lighten the mood.
While some of the costumes seemed a bit thrown together and mismatched, the gentlemen’s wardrobes were beautifully assembled. The team of costume designers made sure there was no shortage of lace, feathers, flowers, and frou-frou.
Despite a few glitches and technical difficulties, the show provided an evening of good music and ample laughter, showing how a few silly friends can lighten the mood—even as you head into the fire. So grab your coat and scarf and head over to Magna to catch that demmed, elusive Pimpernel.