The climax of The Scarlet Pimpernel is a sword fight between the Pimpernel and his archenemy, Chauvelin. The fight, designed by Rick Sordelet, is furious and flamboyant in the Errol Flynn mode, and very dangerous looking.
There's a good reason for that: it is dangerous. Points on the swords are dulled, but they are real steel, and are being waved by actors in peak physical shape. Only careful choreography -- and timing -- save ears, eyes, etc.
For that reason, Mann and Sills run through the fight, in slow motion, before every performance. It's oddly moving, but also a little eerie, to watch.
The two men face-off with crossed swords and smiles. They're still not fully in costumes. Mann wears jeans and sneakers; Sills has an open shirt. They move languidly through their steps on the ramps of the set. Without the music, you can heart the thumps on the wooden boards, the scratch of feet on the stage as they swivel their lazy turns. Their blades clank, ting, scrape and clatter, seeming to echo in the still-empty theatre.
Sills absentmindedly runs through vocalises and he concentrates on the movements. Mann is humming something that sounds like "The Anvil Chorus" from Il Trovatore as metal strikes metal. Mann executes one pirouette with exaggerated elan, and Sills laughs. Their eyes, though, are burning. They monitor each other with laser intensity, running once more through the cues and clues that will enable them to execute the scene convincingly, excitingly, but safely. Assistant Stage Manager Marcus Dinnerstein watches them, too, tossing them last-minute words of advice and encouragement. If they don't know it now . . .
Attenuated like this, the fight enables you to see how carefully it's been planned. You can feel the beats, as if they're counting.
Aside from the ASM, a few stagehands and two reporters, the ghostly pas de deux is watched only by the sea of 1621 red plush seats in the Minskoff auditorium. Only 90 minutes remain before those seats start to fill.
Sills and Mann end, ever so slightly out of breath, and head for their stage-level dressing rooms past the towers of blue mineral water jugs at stage left. It's time to get into costume.