Let's face it, if they called him "the red, weedy primrose-type herb," no one would watch. Instead, they dubbed him, "The Scarlet Pimpernel," and thus, a classic romantic adventure story was born. Now the story has been adapted into a Broadway music, now in previews for a Nov. 9 opening at the Minskoff Theatre on West 45th Street in New York.
The Scarlet Pimpernel stars Douglas Sills, Christine Andreas and Terrence Mann. Andreas plays Marguerite; Mann is Chauvelin; Sills is the Pimpernel. With music by Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll & Hyde) and book & lyrics by Nan Knighton, the musical began previews Oct. 7.
Like J&H, Pimpernel is based on a novel -- this one by Baroness Orczy, which she wrote in 1905. It's the swashbuckling adventure story of hero who aids victims of the French Revolution while posing as a British nobleman.
Also, like J&H, Pimpernel has survived during its gestation period on the strength of a CD recording of the score. Pimpernel's was released in 1992 as a concept album by Angel during the time the show was in development by the Nederlander Organization in New York. That CD features J&H star Linda Eder, along with Chuck Wagner, Dave Clemmons and Peabo Bryson.
Co-producer Kathleen Raitt said that Wildhorn and librettist Nan Knighton did extensive rewrites on the piece. Eight songs on the CD were dropped; the ones that remain are "Into the Fire," "They Seek Him Here," "When I Look at You," "Madame Guillotine," "The Riddle," "The Creator of Man," "Storybook" and "The Pimpernel Fanfare." There is a completely new title song. A spokesperson from Atlantic Records told Playbill On-Line (Oct. 15) the release date for the Pimpernel CD was "very tentatively" scheduled for Feb. 3, 1998.
Hankering for an early whiff of Pimpernel? The show will be highlighted on an Oct. 24 television special, "Broadway Premieres The Scarlet Pimpernel," to be broadcast on WWOR-TV (UPN 9) in New York, 8 PM (EST).
The TV show will start with a half-hour overview of the upcoming Broadway season, hosted by Pat Collins and Dvid Allen Grier, star of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. Then it's on to Pimpernel behind the scenes. Footage includes interviews with the cast and creative team, rehearsal footage and scenes from the show.
Original choreographer Walter Painter, who left Pimpernel in August, has been replaced by Adam Pelty, making his Broadway choreographing debut. Pelty, who appeared in Cyrano: The Musical and Steel Pier -- also performs in Pimpernel.
Gilles Chiasson plays Armand, brother of Marguerite. Formerly an ensemble member of Broadway's Rent, Chiasson also appeared in the national tours of Les Miz and Forever Plaid. His regional credits include the O'Neill Theatre Center, Tennessee Rep and CT's Goodspeed Opera House.
Here's the full remaining cast ofThe Scarlet Pimpernel:
Eric Bennyhoff, Pamela Burrell, Nick Cavarra, Paul Castree, Bill Bowers, Dave Clemmons, David Cromwell, R.F. Daley, Dixon, James Dybas, William Thomas Evans, Allen Fitzpatrick (York Theatre's 1996 Mata Hari), Sutton Foster, Jeff Gardner, Melissa Hart, Philip Hoffman, James Judy (A Christmas Carol, J.P. Morgan Saves The Nation at En Garde Arts), Sarah Knapp, Lauri Landry, Catherine Lavalle, Alison Lory, Don Mayo, Kevyn Morrow, Katie Nutt, Terry Richmond, Sandy Rosenberg, Craig Rubano, Ed Sala, Rono Sharpe, Tim Shew, Elizabeth Ward, Charles West, Stephanie Bast (King David), Marine Jahan and Ron Sharpe.
Upon seeing the audition of actor Sills, composer Frank Wildhorn said, "From a musical point of view, there are few things more exciting than when someone who you don't know or when someone that you've never heard of, walks into a room and totally blows you away! Such was the case with Douglas when he sang for me."
Mann was the original Beast in Beauty And The Beast and played Rum Tum Tugger in Cats and Javert in Les Miz. He played Scrooge in the 1995 mounting of A Christmas Carol at Madison Square Garden. The same year he appeared in the Stephen Sondheim/George Furth thriller, Getting Away With Murder. Andreas played Gretchen Herzallerliebst in the 1993 George Street Playhouse musical, The Fields Of Ambrosia. She also appeared in the Marsha Norman play Sarah And Abraham at the same theatre. Andreas has two Tony nominations to her name: for 1979's Oklahoma! and 1983's On Your Toes.
A Broadway newcomer, Sills starred in the first national tours of Into The Woods as Cinderella's Prince, and in The Secret Garden as Neville. His television work includes appearances on "Party of Five," "Sisters," and "Coach."
Said Pimpernel director Peter Hunt in a statement about Sills, "After a long and exhaustive search, an actor with a name we had never heard appeared in a rehearsal studio in Burbank. He looked the part. Then we discovered he could sing the part, and, lo and behold, he could act the part -- we knew we had our Pimpernel!"
The morning after the April 28 Broadway opening of Jekyll &;Hyde - Wildhorn's first complete Broadway score -- he began a week of auditions for Scarlet Pimpernel. In January, Ed Urban of Hughes Moss Casting told Playbill On-Line that at a reading of the show a few months back, Carolee Carmello had the female lead, while Greg Zerkle played the Pimpernel.
Librettist/lyricist Knighton is also scripting a stage adaptation of the Bee Gees-scored film, Saturday Night Fever, set for the London Palladium April 1998. Wildhorn and J&H lyricist, Leslie Bricusse wrote some of the songs for Julie Andrews starrer, Victor/Victoria.
A pimpernel is a small red flower found in the English countryside. In the musical (and Orczy's 11 original novels), the pimpernel is the crest of Sir Percy Blakeney's family - he has it on a ring which he uses to seal all secret documents he sends to the members of his League. Since his secret band sends a note with the seal each time they free a prisoner from the guillotine, they become known as the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel.