BWW Review: Hale Centre Theatre Presents THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL

BWW Review: Hale Centre Theatre Presents THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL

Think the archetype of the white knight, chivalrous, and romantic, fighting for truth and justice. Think the hero with a secret identity, deft in disguise and deception ~ by day, a fop or playboy; by night, the nemesis of archcriminals and tyrants. If you're inclined initially to think of Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker, then think again, and realize that the origins of today's popular superheroes date back to Johnston McCulley's creation in 1919 of Don Diego de la Vega (aka Zorro) and, even earlier, to the true mother of the secret hero genre, Baroness Emma Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála "Emmuska" Orczy de Orci. (A name of that multisyllabic magnitude merits a full exposition!)

The Baroness's creation was the Scarlet Pimpernel, the nom de guerre of a high-minded English gentleman, Sir Percy Blakeney, who was appalled by the excesses of Robespierre's Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. His virtue lay in rescuing victims of the Terror from the guillotine, after which he'd leave his signature calling card, a simple half-rosette of a flower.

Baroness Orczy's character was immortalized in her 1905 novel (a dozen sequels followed), adapted thereafter in two films ~ in 1934, starring Leslie Howard, Merle Oberon, and Raymond Massey and in 1982 with Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour, and Ian McKellen ~ and translated in 1997 to a Broadway musical, featuring Douglas Sills, Christine Andreas, and Terrence Mann.

If there is a case to be made for a revival of THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL, Hale Centre Theatre has made it, conclusively.

Hale's current staging of the show ~ the season opener, directed and choreographed by the inimitable Cambrian James ~ is two and a half hours of spirited story-telling, featuring a bravura performance by Austin Delp as Sir Percy. Delp is fantastic. He acts with flair, flourish, confidence, and impeccable timing. His quick changes from one characterization to another are masterful.

Percy has returned to England with his French wife, Marguerite St. Just (a poised and vocally rich Rochelle Barton), whom, sad to say, he subsequently assumes to be in cahoots with the dark overlord of The Terror, Citizen Chauvelin (Bryan Stewart, demonic and Javert-ish in pride and tenacity).

Conscience and honor are Percy's virtues. He cannot abide what he perceives to be his bride's betrayal and so distances himself from her. (She hasn't a clue why.) He cannot abide the slaughter across the Channel and so crafts a strategy to derail the rampage of wanton murders. To this end, he enlists his six of his best friends (reluctant to a man) to become the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel (yes, think today's Justice League!). Nathan Spector, Cameron Rollins, Avery Jones, Danny Karapetian, Hunter Cuison, Benjamin Harris are spectacular as Percy's merry accomplices. Together, they are the righteous avengers.

The result is a string of show-stopping, rib-tickling moments. When the magnificent seven don their elegant and flamboyant disguises ~ a la shimmering summery peacocks ~ their conversion to foppery explodes into a hilarious anthem (The Creation of Man) on the gender's duty to wield the sword, defend the cave, and uphold the banner of beauty. When Percy pokes at the officious Chauvelin, mispronounces his name, and unravels his poise into a jackass mass of befuddlement, joy abounds. (Colonel Klink would relate!) When Percy poses as though he were a Grecian god or stares admiringly at his portrait, the illusion he creates of a narcissistic, mindless playboy is totally convincing and absolutely hysterical.

The solid performances of this worthy cast are complemented by an extraordinary convergence of technical and production effects. Mary Atkinson's costumes constitute a designer's horn of plenty ~ rich and bold in color and texture. Brian Daily's sets are imaginative in their economy and utility ~ from the ballroom to a city street, aboard the bounding man, on the guillotine's platform ~ and they are moved seamlessly from one scene to another. Tim Dietlein's lighting is spot on! This is artistic collaboration of the highest order.

With Frank Wildhorn's stirring score as the musical envelope in which this show is wrapped (a bit reminiscent of Les Miz's tempo), James has delivered another memorable hit.

THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL runs through October 6th at Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert, AZ.

Photo credit to Nick Woodward-Shaw

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