The curtain-opening moment in Showbiz Players' production of The Scarlet Pimpernel is exactly why there are curtain openings in musicals. The reveal of the elaborate sets and stunning costumes as the orchestra segues from overture to first production number should — in the Broadway musical tradition — be magical and jaw-dropping.
And in this production, that tradition lives.
That opening moment highlights nearly everything this show has going for it: uber-high production value (especially for a community theater troupe), tight orchestra and extremely capable leads. The moment also reveals perhaps the production's only glaring weaknesses: the clumsy vocal contributions and stiff blocking of the supporting cast and chorus.
The Scarlet Pimpernel, written by Frank Wildhorn, follows the adventures of a band of Brit ninnies who disrupt the advances of the French Republic (and its favorite execution device, the guillotine) by donning disguises and becoming, in essence, 18th century superheroes. Without the super-powers.
Showbiz Players are no strangers to Wildhorn's work, having staged Cincinnati Entertainment Award-winning productions of The Civil War and Jekyll and Hyde. Producer-director Bunny Arszman's comfort with the material is fairly obvious from the aforementioned opening, its "wow" moment. But it's also obvious that she (or any other director in her right mind) would never attempt this ambitious show without having the stage talent to pull it off.
And Arszman does. Mostly.
Local stage vets Tom Cartwright and Rick Kramer play, respectively, Percy Blakeney and Chauvelin. Cartwright's Percy is as big and bright a character as you'll find on community theater stage. At times sassy and other times meaningful and heroic, Cartwright brings all the tools to the table. He also sings the part darn near flawlessly — no easy chore.
Kramer plays the heavy Chauvelin with conviction and a bottomless growl. The best moments in the show pit the two together.
Stacie Thayer plays Marguerite St. Just, the leading lady and center of the love triangle that develops in the story. She's given the standout tunes in the show — "When I Look at You" and "I'll Forget You" — and she ably handles them.
Cartwright's "Into the Fire," particularly, serves as a rousing start to the meat of the musical. And really when the charades start and the Pimpernel is born, that's when the fun begins.
It's too bad the second act lags a bit, both on paper and in production. It just doesn't have the same energy and life as that first scene, when the curtain opens. Grade: B
THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL is performed by Showbiz Players at Xavier University's Gallagher Student Center Theater through Sunday.