Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel

Old Scotch Music and Drama Club (OSMaD)
Geoffrey McComas Theatre, Hawthorn
8 – 17 December

Travelled to Hawthorn on Friday night to witness the great return of OSMAD with their production of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Being one of the last productions of the year is never an easy task for any company as you’ll need to make sure that your company goes into the new year with a bang. Most companies over the years choose a real upbeat and lively production to close the performance year but OSMAD decided to stick with the type of musical they’ve prided themselves with presenting over the last few years with The Scarlet Pimpernel being the highly anticipated follow up to their Lyrebird winning productions of Les Misérables in 2018 and Miss Saigon in 2019. According to reports, it was the first Melbourne production of Wildhorn/Bricusse’s underappreciated musical delight to grace the stage in almost twenty years. I’ve gone on record multiple times to say that performing a show that is not as well known is one of the most difficult feats for a company to achieve, but sure enough, OSMAD’s first production in three years delivered the goods in an interesting yet intellectual fashion with many surprises along the way and even though I went in completely blind, I was able to follow the story quite well and was taken in quickly by the scene that was layed out before my very eyes. 

In the director’s chair, Penn Valk had a highly unique creative vision for the musical adaptation of Baroness Emma Orczy’s classic novel as she and her trusted assistant director DJ Pearce relied on the use of electronic projections and screens, reminiscent to shows like Jersey Boys, to portray the eighteenth century setting of pre-Victorian era England and the beginning of the French revolution. Personally, I felt the use of this format wasn’t necessary to paint this picturesque historical display but it still managed to bring this adaptation of a largely forgotten musical into the twenty-first century and introduce the almost 120 year old story to a brand new audience in a way that was both technological and trailblazing. Despite being in the pit, musical director Matthew Nutley and his trusted band often took centre stage with their performances of the orchestral score as they left the audience spellbound in multiple scenes, especially when many members of the band had never played this beautiful music before work on this production began. Whenever the band’s dedication was stealing the show in the best ways possible, Nutley did everything in his power to ensure that the vocal performances of everyone gracing the stage would fit not only their characters but the individual skills of each actor as well and soloist or ensemble, their experience was showcased to the fullest extent, resulting in a music directorial effort that was enticing and enchanting. Dance routines may not have been as prevalent in The Scarlet Pimpernel as his previous choreographic effort in OCPAC’s In The Heights, but choreographer Joel Anderson managed to keep every routine synchronisred in a dainty yet dashing display. The cast were light on their feet all the way through as if they were getting ready to fly into the crowd with no step out of place and with the noble and knightly fight choreography from assistant director Pearce being the icing on the cake, Anderson demonstrated his versatility in the choreographic field, cementing his status as a true master to his craft. 

As for the cast, each of their performances added a sense of heart to the show and no matter how big or small the role, they managed to find a way to shine in every scene they were in and leading them all was Mitchell Stewart with his portrayal of Sir Percy Blakeney, the titular Pimpernel. Fresh off his performance in MDMS’s Les Misérables, Stewart had his work cut out for him following his mind blowing tenure as Jean Valjean and it seemed that a dream show of his would be the perfect follow up and they were right. He managed to effectively explore Percy’s heroic side, his grand side and surprisingly, on many occasions, his camp and goofy side, leaving the audience in awe with his character’s mystique from beginning to end in a performance that was proud and pompous. Also in the leading cast was Luke Peverelle who was understudying Samuel Fung in the role of Armand St. Just and Candice O’Brien in the role Marie Gorsholtz. Peverelle portrayed the trusted brother-in-law of our hero in a highly loyal and loveable way that had the audience yearning for his character’s survival and the perseverance of his spirit that I’m sure Fung will portray equally as well when he returns to the production. Meanwhile, O’Brien took on her portrayal in a way you’ve never seen her before with her portrayal of the world renowned French artist/rebel and friend of the Blakeney household standing out for being so brave and bright, she truly was a hero in her own right that I found myself rooting for throughout the production’s run time. Also, what will the Scarlet Pimpernel without his trusted band of bounders? Tim Haughton, Geoffrey Winter, Dirk Strachan, Pearce understudying for James Oorloff (who I’m sure will be equally as great upon his return), Tom Liszukiewicz and Harley Efron were all dutiful and debonair with portrayals that can be compared to legendary characters like the Three Musketeers and Robin Hood’s merry men in tights as they proved to crowd that they were just as imperative to the Pimpernel’s triumph as Percy himself and the way their timing bounced off each other so flawlessly failed to go unnoticed. 

The king and queen of this production, however, had me and the rest of the audience mesmerised from the minute they opened their mouths, Omar Moustafa in the role of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s main nemesis and primary antagonist Citizen Chauvelin and Grace Kingsford in the role of Pimpernel’s female lead and true love Marguerite St. Just. Thanks to this musical’s reintroduction to the Melbourne amateur theatre circuit, both actors became early frontrunners for next year’s awards season and were shimmering like diamonds in roles that were not only tailor made to be played by them but also set the standard for how recognised their characters ought to be in theatre communities all around the world. Whether he was hypnotising the audience with his performance of Where’s The Girl or terrifying them with his acts of brutality, Moustafa’s portrayal of the villainous envoy instilled fear into the audience as well as aristocrats of France and the pimpernel himself as he stalked his prey like a predator throughout both acts so effortlessly, it was like watching the devil himself take over as he mastered a performance filled with marvel and magnificence plus a touch of murder and malice to boot. With her portrayal of a French actress who will do anything for her husband and brother while being forced to do the bidding of Chauvelin, Kingsford tackled her character’s dilemma with such realism to make it believably breathtaking, as she sang each song with a heart of gold, especially in numbers like Storybook and When I Think Of You, and moved around the stage as if she would float across the entire auditorium, resulting in a one of a kind performance that was filled with grandeur, greatness and well, grace. 

OSMAD’s big comeback production of The Scarlet Pimpernel was definitely worth the three year wait and even with the odds against them, the whole company succeeded in putting on a memorable production of this underrated musical theatre gem to both close this year’s theatre season with a bang and bring recognition for this musical back to the forefront, hopefully paving the way for more productions to come in the near future. With performances that theatre martyrs would die for, a musical score that could even make Sondheim swoon and direction that could pave the way for the future of our industry, The Scarlet Pimpernel is a once in a lifetime show that can’t be missed and I can only imagine the wonders they will achieve with their next musical in the new year. Special shoutout to Grace Kingsford, Candice O’Brien, Tim Haughton, James Oorloff (get well soon), Tom Liszukiewicz and Matt Sheehan for their performances in the show, Joel Anderson for his choreography, Brenton Van Vliet and Tristan Lawrence for their work behind the scenes and to the rest of the cast and crew associated with this production. Make sure you get your tickets while you still can if you haven’t already, support the company.

Congratulations OSMAD on such a successful return to our community, welcome back to theatre and happy holidays to everyone.

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