Saturday, April 23, 2011

Faulkner: "The Scarlet Pimpernel"

Based on the 1903 play and novel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, the musical version of The Scarlet Pimpernel [music by Frank Wildhorn; book & lyrics by Nan Knighton] has been entertaining audiences at the Faulkner University Dinner Theatre.

Set during the "Reign of Terror" at the time of the French Revolution, it is an adventurous romantic tale of passion and political loyalty that capitalizes on the strong singing and emotional strength of its principal characters, directed by Angela Dickson, with astute musical direction by Randy Foster.

Famous Parisian actress Marguerite St. Just [Austin Woddail] marries English dandy Percy Blakeney [Daneil Monplaisir] on the eve of the Revolution and moves with him to England while her former lover Chauvelin [Chase McMichen] and Robespierre [Bill Nowell] the leaders of the internal police -- the "Committee of Public Safety" -- continue bringing countless accused criminals to the guillotine, including ones Marguerite had unintentionally named as traitors.

Appalled by the cruelty of the police, Blakeney and several of his friends decide to mount a secret underground counter attack, announcing their intentions by letters signed mysteriously with a drawing of a red flower -- the scarlet pimpernel -- that becomes the nickname of the leader, Blakeney, whose identity is a secret to all but his closest allies.

When Marguerite's brother Armand [Jared Roberts] is arrested, Chauvelin threatens to reveal Marguerite's past romance unless she will help in finding "The Scarlet Pimpernel". -- The moment of reckoning will be at a masked ball thrown by the Prince of Wales [Allen Young], as Chauvelin hopes to unmask the "pimpernel" and win Marguerite back; but he is to be thwarted.

Along the way, tensions mount, deceptions abound, and audiences are treated to the strong choral and individual voices of the cast who render Wildhorn's extraordinary musical score with confidence. -- From the frightening moments at the guillotine to the silliness of the men's chorus of fops, the chorus fills the hall.

But it the individuals who hold the day: Ms. Woodail's clear soprano solos are tastefully rendered and emotionally truthful; Mr. Monplaisir's comic strength is also matched with a dramatic flair and a romantic intensity in the love duets with Marguerite.

Mr. McMichen, as Chauvelin, is given the most dramatic opportunities to shine in vocal interpretation...probably his strongest role at Faulkner to date. He demonstrates a fine capacity for investing emotional character-driven intensity to each moment.

The Scarlet Pimpernel has something in it to suit all tastes, and Ms. Dickson's company provides a fine interpretation.