Based on the novel by the Baroness Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel
takes place during the French Revolution. As the story begins,
Marguerite St. Just and Sir Percival Blakeney announce their
engagement during a performance at the Comédie Francaise,
only to be rudely interrupted by Citizen Chauvelin, one of Robespierre's
underlings who angrily sentences Marguerite to the guillotine.
After a narrow escape, the two lovers set out for England to
be married, but on their wedding night, Sir Percy learns that
Marguerite supplied information to Chauvelin--information that
led to the death of one of Sir Percy's closest friends. Devastated,
Percy leaves a bewildered Marguerite alone in their wedding bed.
He then gathers together a group of close friends and convinces
them to form a secret society to rescue as many aristocrats as
possible from the guillotine. In order to throw off suspicion,
they will pose as the fanciest of fops so that no one will suspect
them capable of being involved in the resistance.
Soon, the Scarlet Pimpernel and his men have made quite a
nuisance of themselves, and Robespierre charges Chauvelin with
the task of apprehending the Pimpernel. Although he is surrounded
by incompetents, Chauvelin is determined to carry out Robespierre's
orders. Finding Marguerite alone at home, he grills her for information
related to the identity of the Pimpernel, but Marguerite wants
nothing to do with him. When he tries to seduce her, reminding
her of their past involvement, she sends him away, but the villain
soon returns with news that Marguerite's brother, Armand, has
been captured and will be executed unless Marguerite agrees to
help Chauvelin uncover the Pimpernel's identity.
The next night, at the Royal Ball, Marguerite secretly passes
a message to the Pimpernel's men that she must meet with their
leader. When a meeting is arranged, the young woman reveals everything
to the Pimpernel, still not realizing that the hero is actually
her husband. She explains how Chauvelin had blackmailed her to
get the information that led to the death of Sir Percy's friend.
She also pleads with the Pimpernel to rescue her brother. Overjoyed
that his wife has been an unwilling participant in this whole
affair, Percy sends Marguerite away, then sets his sights on
While Sir Percy is planning his attack, however, Marguerite
is captured by Chauvelin who sentences her to the guillotine
along with her brother, and before the Pimpernel's men can stage
a rescue, Chauvelin allows the two prisoners to escape, correctly
anticipating that they will unwittingly lead him directly to
the Pimpernel's hideout. Thus, Marguerite learns that the Scarlet
Pimpernel is none other than her husband just in time to watch
him risk his life in a final showdown with Chauvelin.
The Scarlet Pimpernel opened at the Minskoff Theatre
on November 9, 1997 with a cast that featured Christine Andreas
(Marguerite), Terrence Mann (Chauvelin), and Douglas Sills (Sir
Percy). Although the show opened to less than favorable reviews,
it managed to hang on for almost a year thanks to a highly vocal
fan base and a devoted creative team. The production went on
to receive a number of award nominations including Tony Award
nominations for "Best Musical," "Best Book,"
and "Best Actor" (Douglas Sills).
Then, in the summer of 1998, Cablevision/Madison Square Garden
purchased The Scarlet Pimpernel and announced plans to
keep the show running into the new millennium. The original production
closed on October 1, 1998, and reopened for previews nine days
later with a completely reworked show that included new songs,
new scenes, and two new leads--Rex Smith (Chauvelin) and Rachel
York (Marguerite). The same critics who had attacked the show
a year earlier now praised it, and this production played to
enthusiastic audiences until it closed on May 30, 1999.
Still, The Scarlet Pimpernel refused to die. A third,
scaled down Broadway production opened on September 10, 1999,
at the Neil Simon Theater with a cast that featured Ron Bohmer,
Carolee Carmello, and Marc Kudisch.
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