The Candlewood International and Mainstage Artists Management non-equity National Tour of The Scarlet Pimpernel, which Broadway at Duke brought to Page Auditorium Nov. 1, was an absolute audience delight from start to finish. This swashbuckling musical comedy, based on Baroness Emmuska Orczy's 1904 suspense novel and set in 1794 during the darkest and bloodiest days of the French Revolution, features rousing melodies by composer Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll & Hyde, The Civil War) and a clever book and biting lyrics by Nan Knighton (Saturday Night Fever).
Energized by Dominick Ruggiero's dynamic direction and Jonathan Phelps' crisp choreography, the current non-equity National Tour of The Scarlet Pimpernel was a cut above the average non-equity National Tour. It employed The Scarlet Pimpernel's original touring set (handled by scenic coordinator Michael Boyer) and eye-catching Broadway costumes, plus artful illumination of the action by lighting designer Doug Harry and visually striking wig, hair and makeup designs by Patricia DelSordo.
Musical director/conductor Jeffrey Buchsbaum, assistant musical director/conductor Chad Willow, and orchestra provided vibrant instrumental accompaniment for a young and talented cast headed by Rye Mullis, Anne Brummel, and Stephen Brown.
Rye Mullis was simply wonderful as tall, dark, handsome, dashing, and oh-so-droll English aristocrat Sir Percival "Percy" Blakeney (a.k.a. "The Scarlet Pimpernel"). In order to disguise his involvement in international intrigues against the French government, Percy is ostentatiously effete in public. He pretends to be a real clotheshorse, a fop's fop. Only in private with the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel (splendidly played by Alex Back, Roger Barbieri, Michael Bleyer, Dexter James Brigham, Dan Kolodny, and Robert Lewandowski) does Percy reveal his real motives and true feelings.
Mullis' outrageous limp-wristed antics as Percy provide some of the show's merriest moments. So do his daring raids to rescue the innocent from French prisons and even the guillotine itself.
Anne Brummel played French actress Marguerite St. Just, Percy's beautiful but secretive fiancée, with beauty, brains, and brio. She was terrific as a suspected spy, a woman walking on eggshells, with a terrible secret in her past that now threatens to surface and destroy her present happiness.
Stephen Brown was the consummate villain — bloodthirsty, ruthless, wicked, and utterly without scruple — as Citizen Chauvelin, cruel representative of a murderous French revolutionary government determined to execute every French aristocrat that it can catch. The implacable nemesis of The Scarlet Pimpernel, Chauvelin shamelessly blackmails Marguerite about their long-ago affair in order to get her to spy for him.
John Cormier was good as Marguerite's headstrong brother, Armand St. Just; Julie Rebecca Holmes was charming as outspoken seamstress Marie Grosholtz, and Jason E. Simon made the most of his moments in the spotlight as Percy's butler, Jessup.
All in all, Broadway at Duke's Scarlet Pimpernel was a real crowd-pleaser. It also was a superb showcase for an impressive array of youthful performers who will surely go on to bigger and better roles on Broadway and beyond.