by Beki Pineda

THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL – Book and Lyrics by Nan Knighton; Music by Frank Wildhorn; Directed by Steve Wilson. Produced by Candlelight Dinner Playhouse (4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown) through November 6. Tickets available at 970-744-3747 or ColoradoCandlelight.com.

There has been a bit of a kerfuffle surrounding this production. As a show, it has been basically ignored for about 25 years, only to be seen at the occasional high school. Candlelight is to be commended for taking on the hundreds of moving parts that makes up this complicated show. An unknown title to most theatre-goers, SCARLET PIMPERNEL could have been a hard sell to ticket buyers. But I feel sure that once the word gets out, it will be hard to get a ticket. WARNING: Get yours now while you can.

Having said all that, let me add that this was not the show I anticipated seeing; but that’s not Candlelight’s fault. I have listened to the concept album from 1996 with the original score before the show ever hit a stage. It was reworked before the first Broadway production in 1997, improved again before a second run on Broadway in 1998, and jumbled once again before a third Broadway run in 1999. So unbeknownst to those of listening to the first album (featuring Chuck Wagner and Linda Eder in the leads), SCARLET PIMPERNEL version 4 or 5 is now what is being performed.  Three of my favorite songs were expunged years ago and five new ones added. But once I relaxed into the show I was watching, my disappointment fell away and I thoroughly enjoyed the rough and ready version presented.

Director Steve Wilson has pulled together a top notch cast that happily endures the multiple costume and wig changes in the shadow of a guillotine to bring this story to life. One of the sweet things about Candlelight is that once the management is assured of an actor’s talent and commitment to the project, they invite people back time after time.  This allows the audience to build up a familiarization with their favorites and enter the theatre wondering what parts will Sammie Staggs, Kent Sugg, Eric Heine, returning Stephen Turner and the other long-time favorites be playing. You are allowed conversations with them as they serve your food and learn a little about the show before it begins. Grateful for the opportunities offered, those that have a lead in one show will take a second banana role in the next show. For instance, Logan Traver who was an excellent Jack Kelly in CDP’s NEWSIES now delights as one of the Bounders (as the Pimpernel’s men are known) in this production. Susanna Ballenski who sang her socks off as Lucy in JEKYLL AND HYDE is a valued member of the ensemble for this production. Hugh Butterfield had the lead in a recent Holiday show at Candlelight and continues his work here as a Bounder.

There are three leads in this production, two veterans and one brand new. Sarah Forman who has graced many a production at Candlelight plays Marguerite, the plucky actress who feels betrayed by her new husband. Scott Hurst Jr. who created an instant fan club with his role as Jekyll and Hyde in the recent production is the villain of the piece as the dastardly Chauvelin, a leader of the Citizen’s Brigade that is throwing bodies at Madame Guillotine willy-nilly. Marguerite is the woman he cannot have which makes her all the more desirable. Scott is a force of nature and does being tormented very well.

The brand-new face belongs to Patric Case, fresh from a role at BDT Stage and making his CDP debut as the Pimpernel himself. Percy Blankeney is an English nobleman who abhors the massacre he sees going on during the French Revolution. He decides to disguise his work of rescuing people by becoming a fop of the first order and convincing his band of brothers to do the same thing. Their efforts at becoming dandies provide some of the funniest scenes in the show. This allows them to travel undetected and to become swordsmen and soldiers when they get to France. Patric’s beautiful singing voice and comic timing are a highlight of the evening. His duets with Sarah show them both at great advantage.

The Bounders (Ethan Walker, Logan Traver, Hugh Butterfield, Phil Forman, Chris Bain, Stephen Turner, and Eric Heine) added a great deal to the production with their vigorous swordplay and rousing anthems. They seemed to enjoy equally the “manly” part of the evening as much as the “dandy” doings. They provided support for the activities of the Pimpernel and enhanced the camaraderie they shared with one another.  You could believe they would go “Into the Fire” for each other and for their cause.

Of course, the show is well supported as well by the crew that put it together. Carrie Colton served as choreographer and taught the swords play to the Bounders (and no one got hurt on opening night!). The vocal direction of Jalyn Webb gave the singers confidence and security. The set designed by Brian Watson created a number of levels and stairs off of which wounded swordsmen could fall. The costumes created by Deb Faber were outstanding and made the ladies long for the good ol’ days of hoopskirts.  A multitude of wigs were designed by Debbie Spaur that allowed for the actors to assume various roles. One little thing:  please push Marguerite’s wig back on her head a little bit; it covers too much of her pretty face. The band, conducted by Joel Paszkowski, is split between the orchestra pit and backstage and gave great musical support to the cast. An unnamed Sound Engineer kept everything balanced between the two groups of musicians.  Thank you, Mr. Wilson.  Candlelight knows how to put on a show.

A WOW factor of 9.5!!

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