Another winner of a review for THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL

Well y’all, it’s official. THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL is “a bouquet of emotional songs, colorful costumes, numerous laughs and an intriguing plot”. Continuing at Plaza through April 16th, tickets are available by calling the Plaza Box Office at 817-202-0600. And if you weren’t sure what the show is about, this will serve as some excellent help to you in figuring out what’s going on. Read on for another spectacular review of the show by Paul Gnadt of The Star Group newspapers.


It’s growth stunted by a slow beginning, the Plaza Theatre Company’s production of “The Scarlet Pimpernel” finally starts blooming and becomes a bouquet of emotional songs, colorful costumes, numerous laughs and an intriguing plot that will continue Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at the Plaza Theatre in Cleburne.

The excellent acting and clever sets that you expect from a Plaza production — the company won 17 awards at the March 28 Column Awards gala that recognizes the best in live theater in the Metroplex — are supported by a stunning array of costumes designed by Tina Barrus (assisted by Soni Barrus and intern Ashlie Christenson) that appear to be freshly unwrapped from a storage warehouse in 1790s France.

The wild colors and amazing variety of the costumes — some actors have seven wardrobe changes —  will certainly earn Tina Barrus a 2011 Column Award nomination for best costume designer, an award she won March 28 for 2010’s “Into the Woods.”

The JaceSon Barrus-designed sets are clever, especially an elevated circular platform that revolves. It is an integral part of a scene at the Royal Palace in the first act and a footbridge scene in the second act.

In some scenes, the entire 36-member cast fills the floor with a kaleidoscope of sights and sounds, especially the numbers titled “The Creation of Man,” and “The Riddle,” which  are presented at the end of the Act I.

The choreography of Jill Baker is at its best in these two intricate numbers that feature men in high heels and frou frou fluttering scarves, and slow and intricate steps that require precise timing.

The story, from the famous novel by Baroness Orczy, takes place in 1794 in England and Paris during the French Revolution, when Sir Percival Blakeney (David Cook), a British aristocrat and his rich buddies — known as The Bounders (JaceSon Barrus, Joey Geisel, Luke Hunt, Jonathan Metting, Aaron Siler and Stephen Singleton) — risk their lives to sail from England to France multiple times, using their wits to save French noblemen from the guillotine.

Yes, there is a guillotine. It serves as a reminder of the seriousness of the situation, is referred to in song (“Madame Guillotine”) and is used once at the beginning of the play and again at the end, although the second occasion is clever and results in the unexpected and funny birth of a world-famous wax museum.

The plot begins when Sir Percy is visiting Paris and falls in love with actress Marguerite St. Just (double cast with Burleson’s Christine Atwell and, in the production I saw, Meredith Browning, who brings real emotion to her songs and whose degrees in vocal performance from Abilene Christian University and Boston University were probably just handed to her after she sang the school song).

When Marguerite announces her engagement to Sir Percy, Chauvelin (played by Ben Phillips, only days from his Column Award for best actor in Plaza’s 2010 production of “Into the Woods”), a high-ranking revolutionary official and Marguerite’s former lover, is furious. On the night Marguerite leaves for England with Percy and her brother, Armand, Chauvelin blackmails her into delivering him secret information about the Marquis de St. Cyr, a friend of Percy’s whom Chauvelin promises will not be harmed.

Instead, Chauvelin has lied to Marguerite, traps St. Cyr, and sends him and his family to the guillotine.

In England, Percy and Marguerite are married but, at the reception, he learns his new bride was responsible for the death of St. Cyr. Thinking he has married a French spy, Percy distances himself from her and decides to make things right.

Percy gathers his buddies and persuades them to join him in their own war against the French regime. Something like the Lone Ranger with six Tontos or Batman with six Robins, they call themselves The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel and sail back and forth across the English Channel, using disguise and diversion to save innocent lives.

Embarrassed by the cleverness and success of the league, Chauvelin vows to catch them and send them to the guillotine.

Meanwhile, back in England, Percy and his gang use all sorts of ruses to divert any suspicion that they are the risk-taking, life-saving heroes.

This is where the fun starts and the plot thickens. Until now, while the music has been lovely to listen to as directed by Dick Helmcamp, there’s been a disconnect because I wasn’t familiar with the songs. It’s not like “Annie Get Your Gun,” or “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” where you know the tunes and lyrics. The Frank Wildhorn music and Nat Knighton lyrics are not everyday, singable, humable tunes.

It’s not that the tunes become familiar, they don’t, but they begin to make sense with the action, which starts to get fast paced. You have to listen to the dialogue or you’ll miss an important point.

When the Prince of Wales suspects Percy and his men have something to do with the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, he invites them to the castle. They convince him that their frequent trips are merely shopping excursions for frills and frou-frou, which they wear with hilarious results.

However, Chauvelin shows up to inform Marguerite that her brother, Armand, has been arrested in Paris, accused of being a member of the League. Chauvelin persuades Marguerite to learn the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel at the royal ball that night or Armand will be introduced to Madame Guillotine.

The musical number that accompanies this scene — “The Riddle” — is Plaza-being-Plaza  clever in its use of the little round stage in the center of the set and the choreography.

The revolving circle takes center stage again when Marguerite persuades one of The Bounders to have the Scarlet Pimpernel meet her on the footbridge, on which she stands facing away from him as he circles in pace with the turning bridge. Very clever.

While Percy’s secret identity remains secret, Marguerite admits that she is a spy, but only because Chauvelin blackmailed her.

She asks the Pimpernel to save her brother.

Overjoyed that she was tricked, because he always really loved her, Percy and his buddies set sail for France and the rescue.

But Chauvelin captures Marguerite and Armand, and, using a ruse of his own, unmasks the identity of the Pimpernel. Just when all appears lost, the cleverness of Sir Percy — who uses his wits instead of losing his head — saves the day.

The playbill gives “special thanks” to the 36 people, including many of the actors, who worked on costume construction. Indeed.

You may think the first few songs don’t mean anything, but they do. Listen to them.

This is a tough challenge for the Plaza troupe to tackle, but they get it done with good singing, amazing choreography, clever sets and colorful costume

Directed by the husband and wife team and Plaza co-founders JaceSon and Tina Barrus, “The Scarlet Pimpernel” plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Saturdays through April 16 at the Plaza Theatre, 111. S. Main St., in Cleburne.

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