The second Broadway version of The Scarlet Pimpernel, at the Minskoff Theatre, will buckle its last swash May 30, making way for the London musical, Saturday Night Fever, but it's only a matter of months before the Frank Wildhorn musical returns to New York in a third and scaled-back incarnation.
The "musical adventure" opened at the Minskoff in fall 1997 to unenthusiastic reviews and ran a year. Radio City Entertainment, which had bought the production during its 1997-98 run, invested dough in having composer Wildhorn and lyricist-librettist Nan Knighton, along with new director-choreographer Robert Longbottom, reimagine the piece.
The show was recast (keeping Douglas Sills in the title role, adding Rachel York as the love interest and Rex Smith as the villain), remarketed and reopened at the Minskoff Oct. 10, 1998, earning better reviews from critics and audiences.
With Saturday Night Fever in the wings for a Sept. 28 first previews at the Minskoff, Radio City went back to the drawing board to again rethink the future of the Pimpernel property. It was decided to scale it to a more intimate size that would fit into the Neil Simon, where it will roost beginning Sept. 10.
The new production, which is not expected to star Sills, York and Smith, will tour to Dallas, Atlanta and Houston in the summer before coming back to New York. An official casting announcement has not been made, although Ron Bohmer (a onetime Broadway Enjolras in Les Miserables) has been mentioned for the title role. The musical is based on the romantic adventure novel by Baroness Orczy, which told of the British nobleman who, with his friends, travels to Revolution-era France to save the innocent.
Actors' Equity Association played a big role in the summer reconfiguration. The producers of Pimpernel desired to cut the musical's cast from 41 to 29, eliminating 20 of the current players and adding eight new ones, according to Alan Eisenberg, president of Actors' Equity. 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.
For tickets to the Neil Simon Pimpernel, call (212) 307-4100.