It's 40 minutes before curtain, and there's a major surge of electricity in the hospital-beige, linoleum-tiled corridors and dressing rooms of the Minskoff Theatre. In one room, a seamstress is doing a bit of last-minute reinforcement work on a costume. Body microphone packs (each about the size of a cigarette pack) have been placed in small "in boxes" outside of each actor's door.
On the darkened stage, a wooden cart rests to one side. (This is the infamous cart that will take victims of the French Revolution to the guillotine.) To the other side is a second cart, this one filled (to the gills?) with seemingly hundreds of hard plastic fish. There's also a cabinet that displays the guns and rifles of a country gentlemen, a burgundy velvet loveseat, and a couple of bookcases filled to capacity with books marked "Cervantes," "Marlow," "Complete Works of Shakespeare," and "Racine" (actually, on close scrutiny they turn out to be fake books that just look like the real thing to the audience). There's also a guillotine -- all brown wood and shiny blade -- that looks a bit too much like the real thing.
Onstage a dozen or so men and a few women are doing their thing -- making certain that all the props and scenery are in their proper places.
"This show has more small props than other shows I've worked," says long-time house prop man Frank Lavaia, who has been with The Scarlet Pimpernel since early-July, "and there are definitely more pallets [portable platforms that move props and furniture onstage and off]," he added, pointing to an Oriental rug atop a pallet; the same pallet will later be used to move props onstage for the drawing room scene -- and will, in the second act, appear yet again with a small table on it for the bistro scene.
Against one of the back walls are a 12-slot transparent shoe bag filled with women's shoes for the wedding scene -- each slot is marked with the name of an actress who will wear that particular pair of shoes: Pamela Burrell, Sandy Rosenberg, Melissa Hart etc. -- and a stack of richly hued silk taffeta dresses in delectable shades like salmon, rose, and mauve. Neatly sewn into each is a label of the costume shop that manufactured the dress, i.e. "Eric Winterling, Inc." or "Parsons Meares Ltd. NYC." Costume designer Jane Greenwood has paid a great deal of attention to period detail -- authentic lace and crinoline abound -- but she has used zippers in dresses to facilitate costume changes, which in this particular show are fast and frequent: "During the first few minutes of the show, I help 12 people who are dressed as prisoners change clothes to become part of the French mob scene and then crossover for the wedding scene," says Michael Growler, a dresser who is both affable and calm (considering what's in store for him in half an hour).
-- By Rebecca Paller