Stage Review

Who was that unmasked man?

By Dany Margolies

It has intelligent humor, visual miracles, one very hummable song, lofty performances, elegant staging and musical direction.

But …

At the Ahmanson, “The Scarlet Pimpernel” presents one troubling problem that threatens to dampen the otherwise entertaining production.

Based on the classic novel, this musical (book and lyrics by Nan Knighton, music by Frank Wildhorn) tells the story of Percy, an Englishman who takes on a secret identity to fight for the lives of the French aristocracy during the French Revolution, even staging last-moment rescues from the guillotine. Meanwhile, as soon as he marries Marguerite, a French actress, he is poisoned with jealousy because she may still love the villainous Chauvelin.

Percy becomes The Scarlet Pimpernel, a fop. A dandy. And having chosen to disguise himself as such, he leaves writers, directors and actors to portray the Pimpernel as the stereotypically gay man — swishy, giggly, limp wristed, dressed in ludicrous attire. And if one finds this stereotyping disturbing, it will taint one’s enjoyment of this show that otherwise comes as a huge relief to those audience members the recent musicals at the Ahmanson left groaning in the aisles.

Focusing on the positive, however, one can enjoy the delicious acting, singing and dancing skills of the actors. Directed and choreographed by Robert Longbottom, the performance moves seamlessly, the characters are both real and larger than life. The staging is lively even as the characters gather in groups that make the stage look like 18th century paintings.

For the three leads, this might as well be a three-person show; no one else gets a solo turn, and the roles, particularly the Pimpernel’s, are physically demanding. Douglas Sills is stellar as Percy and the Pimpernel. Amy Bodnar is delicate and strapping as Marguerite. William Paul Michals is decadently both malevolent and attractive as Chauvelin. David Cromwell delights in the dual roles of Robespierre and the Prince of Wales.

Lyrics are disappointingly not nearly as clever as the dialogue. The music is pleasant enough but made better by its orchestration (Kim Scharnberg) with apropos touches of harpsichord and horn. Thankfully, the musical direction, by Andrew Wilder, is subtle, and one can consistently hear the singers.

Jane Greenwood’s costumes are lavish and fun. Scenery by Andrew Jackness and lighting by Natasha Katz are witty and subtle yet occasionally draw their own deserved applause (in a film-like moment, a ship suddenly materializes and carries eager warriors over rolling waves). Special effects by Jim Steinmeyer have heads rolling.

With all the glamour and fun of the production, is there a moral to the tale? Indeed, as offered at the conclusion of the festivities, “The measure of a man is on the inside.”

“The Scarlet Pimpernel” plays through June 18 at the Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Sunday evening and Thursday matinee performances available. Tickets $25-$70. Tel. 213.628.2772, or online at

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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