And you thought post-Revolutionary France was dangerous. Rex Smith, who plays the crafty, evil Chauvelin in The Scarlet Pimpernel, found himself on the other end of real-life evil last week when he was mugged, April 13, in his New York City apartment complex. Smith was physically unharmed but shaken by the incident, which caused him to miss the week's performances (understudy Tom Zemon took over).
In other Pimpernel peregrinations, it looks like revision number three for the Frank Wildhorn-Nan Knighton tuner.
After leaving the Minskoff Theatre May 30, the constantly in-flux musical will shear its cast, tour the U.S. over the summer in a revised form, and return to Broadway's Neil Simon Theatre in the fall, as first reported on InTheater's website and confirmed by Alan Eisenberg (April 8), executive director of Actors' Equity, as well as a production spokesman at Boneau/Bryan-Brown. Equity plays a big role in this reconfiguration. The producers of Pimpernel desired to cut the musical's cast from 41 to 29, eliminating 20 of the current players and adding 8 new ones, according to Eisenberg. The show would then be restaged as a smaller version of itself, designed to fit the Neil Simon.
The difficulty lay in an Equity rule which protects such terminated performers. Unless six weeks pass between the shuttering and reopening of a production, explained Eisenberg, actors dismissed from the previous incarnation must be paid. The producers wished to avoid this expense.
"The producers said we would prefer to stay in New York to the end of May," Eisenberg told Playbill On-Line. "They asked for a concession on the rule. They were prepared to work out an agreement, and they said they would close the show in April if they couldn't prepare a deal."
Equity asked but failed to secure severance pay for the unemployed actors. Instead, the producers offered to pay the remaining cast lucrative Broadway salaries -- instead of considerably lesser stock company pay -- during the new staging's rehearsal period, as well as on the road. "We thought this was a good arrangement," observed Eisenberg, "because otherwise the producers would have closed in April and the company would have gotten nothing." He added that the decision had been made by a national committee of actors.
Pimpernel will be hitting the road without star Douglas Sills. Sills, said a spokesman, has opted to leaved the show. However, Sills' agency said the actor's departure was not yet a definite. The rest of the casting - including the continued involvement of the other two leads, Rachel York and Rex Smith -- is uncertain.
The reconfigured Pimpernel will play Dallas, Houston and Atlanta before returning to the Neil Simon Theatre in September.
The history of The Scarlet Pimpernel has featured more twists than perhaps any musical in Broadway history. The Frank Wildhorn & Nan Knighton musical opened in November 1997 to largely negative reviews and limped along for a year. In summer 1998, in a move which smacked more of the board room than backstage, Radio City Entertainment and Ted Forstman bought the musical from its original producers. They then brought in new director Robert Longbottom to restage the show. Sills, who plays the title role, remained, but leads Terrence Mann and Christine Andreas were replaced by Rex Smith and Rachel York.
The show reopened October 1998 to considerably better reviews. However, it was soon faced with the obstacle of having to vacate the Minskoff, promised to the incoming London musical Saturday Night Fever.
If Pimpernel returns to Broadway in September, it may very well stand as the only show in Broadway history to run in three radically different versions, while remaining, essentially, a single continuous production.
For tickets and information on The Scarlet Pimpernel at the Minskoff Theatre through May 30 call (212) 307-4100.