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Theater review: CenterPoint’s 'Scarlet Pimpernel' largely successful endeavor

Published: Friday, Oct. 19 2012 2:00 p.m. MDT

“The Scarlet Pimpernel,” CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, through Nov. 6 at 7:30 p.m., $17-$20, 801-298-1302 or centerpointtheatre.org

CENTERVILLE — According to some reports, with Frank Wildhorn’s 1999 Broadway opening of “The Civil War,” he became the most successful musical theater composer. And he was the first in 22 years to have three shows running simultaneously on Broadway.

“Jekyll & Hyde” ran for four years in New York, and his more recent shows, “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Wonderland,” also opened on Broadway. Yet Wildhorn holds another distinction. He’s never been awarded a Tony. And there’s been only one nomination.

It’s been thoroughly noted that Wildhorn has never encountered a dramatic conflict he couldn't bulldoze with a power ballad, with nearly each including an arms-skyward, hold-the-glorious-note climax. The pop-tinged music is the focus, with less attention on storytelling.

CenterPoint Legacy Theatre has selected to stage “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” the most accessible of Wildhorn’s shows and one proven highly popular with Utah audiences. The show is an entertaining musical romp in the comic-romantic genre.

Based on the effervescent prose of the Baroness Emma Orczy novel, “The Scarlet Pimpernel” is about the double life of British nobleman Percy Blakeney. Pretending to be a foppish wastrel, Percy and a group of English freedom fighters periodically sneak over to France to rescue innocent victims of France’s Reign of Terror from the guillotine. And he suspects his new French bride, the now-retired-from-the-stage songbird Marguerite St. Just, is a spy.

Under direction of Scott Montgomery, CenterPoint’s staging is a largely successful endeavor.

As the swashbuckler of much derring-do, Matt Dickamore is highly successful, with a dashing portrait of a romantic hero. His Percy sounds great in the overwrought power ballads, and he adds tenderness to “Prayer.” Dickamore is clearly having a good time as a peacock-dressed dandy, a disguise to allay suspicions of his rescues, and the audience is responsive to his comic antics.

Jessica Pearce is the corseted queen of Percy’s heart, Marguerite. She looks smashing in the snow-white pompadour donned in the Comédie-Française-styled “Storybook” that opens the show and has a lovely voice in “When I Look at You.” Yet there’s strength lacking beneath the hurt and bewilderment that Marguerite feels due to Percy’s neglect. The theater's executive producer, Scott Van Dyke, does the necessary posturing as Chauvelin, but “Falcon in the Dive” disappoints.

Credit must be paid to music director Marcie Jacobsen. Percy’s English cohorts sound grand, especially in the battle song “Into the Fire” (and they are hilarious in “The Creation of Man”). Even with the thin, canned accompaniment, ensemble singing is full and strong. Choreographer Marilyn May Montgomery’s work is also impressive.

“Pimpernel” merits a flashy production. The costumes, under management by Michael Nielsen, are lush by community theater standards, and Van Dyke wisely eschews backdrops, with movable set pieces the focal point of his stage design.

With the exception of “Arsenic and Old Lace,” CenterPoint’s 2013 season is all popular musicals: “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “The Secret Garden,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying,” “Into the Woods” and “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.”

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