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The Scarlet Pimpernel

By:Baroness Orczy
Book and lyrics:Nan Knighton
Music:Frank Wildhorn
Director:Peter Hunt
Sets:Andrew Jackness
Costumes:Jane Greenwood
Lighting:Natasha Katz
Sound:Karl Richardson
Opened:11/97 at the Minskoff Theater
Cast:Christine Andreas, Terrence Mann, Douglas Sills, Elizabeth Ward, Sandy Rosenberg, Pamela Burrell, Ed Dixon and David Cromwell

“Is he in heaven? Is he in hell? That damned elusive Pimpernel.” Adapting the purple-prosed novel by Baroness Orczy into a musical proves just as slippery as its protagonist. It's the post-French Revolution tale of an Englishman who fops about as a wastrel to cover for his underground heroics saving victims from the guillotine. In addition to moonlighting as a swashbuckling gallant, Percy, a.k.a. The Pimpernel, suspects that his amour may be a spy for French terrorists. However, all this intrigue about a double life musters little suspense. Newcomer Douglas Sills saves his own neck from the critical guillotine with a formidable performance in the lead (though he can't resist overindulging in limp-wristed wimpiness at times). The musical numbers sag into top-40, Whitney Houston-ish banality and are further weighed down by somnabulatory choreography. Christine Andreas as Percy's bride Marguerite turns in the most memorable musical performance — a bawdy French music-hall belter. Unfortunately, the overall production becomes as two-faced as its titular hero, unable to reconcile its good-humored campiness with its yawning history lesson. And forget about the bold derring-do the Pimpernel's famed for: this adaptation's all ruff and no tumble.