The Scarlet Pimpernel is a musical of flamboyance, wit, and espionage


Senior Sam Peterson, junior Trevor Kimmel, senior Micah King, junior Brandon Fischer, junior Steven Slawson, and sophomore Rafael Alfonso dancing in “Creation of Man” in the first act. (Photo courtesy of Joanne Hall).

Hannah Song

By Hannah Song

When senior Sam Peterson sang his dramatic solo “Prayer” in the first act in The Scarlet Pimpernel, he was so overwhelmed with emotion that he visibly shook.  

“It requires a certain headspace,” said Peterson, who took the time and effort to understand his character so extensively that he unintentionally maintained some of the nervous tics he created for his character.

The Princess Anne chorus department put on four shows of The Scarlet Pimpernel during the weekend of March 29.

The Scarlet Pimpernel is set during the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution and revolves around protagonist Percy Blakeney (played by Peterson) who, behind a flamboyant façade, is a quick-witted hero. Percy is the Scarlet Pimpernel, the English vigilante figure who saves innocent French aristocrats from the guillotine.

Junior Grace Altman portrayed a French actress Marguerite who is presumably the cleverest woman in Europe. Marguerite is stuck being blackmailed into giving information to her ex-lover Chauvelin (a French militant officer on the side of the Rebellion). At the same time, she is attempting to close the ever-expanding distance between her and her husband Percy, whom she disrespects for his cowardly and foppish attitude, while she admires the dashing Pimpernel.   

“She’s a complex character so it’s hard to show all the different sides of her,” said Altman. When Altman had to portray Marguerite’s sultry side, she also needed to show the cunning subtext of her actions.   

“Prescott announced what show we were doing last May and I knew that I wanted to be her,” said Altman.

“I did everything I could to become her,” said Altman. This included reading the novel the musical is based on, watching the film, and went all the way to New York to see the production live. To train her voice to sing the dynamic range of Marguerite, Altman took vocal lessons and worked with chorus teacher David Prescott. Before the live performance, Altman took care to refrain from talking most of the week prior and was careful to rest her voice throughout rehearsals.

Senior Eric McHenry made a convincing villain as Chauvelin whose goal is for the Revolution to succeed while also trying to win back his former lover Marguerite.

“It’s so different from my personality and what I would do in those circumstances,” said McHenry. “To devolve my character into such a creep is what makes acting so awesome. I don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance to do that again.”

“The students that were involved made the show special. They all did a tremendous job,” said Prescott.

There is a variety of moving parts that come into play to put on a musical, and no one knows this better than Prescott who is retiring from PA this year.

“The musical theater production has a lot of elements involved in it, but obviously the acting, the costuming, the set, and the orchestra – all of that combines to make a fabulous show,” said Prescott. “In this case, all the stars were in alignment and we produced something that was well received.”

“I don’t think anybody really understands what it takes to get in on the boards unless they’ve been involved in musical theater production before,” said Prescott. “You just wouldn’t think about the minute detail whether it’s how the actors are portraying the characters they’ve been given to how much of the music has to be rehearsed.” As the conductor, Prescott had to make sure to take the nuances that the performers were utilizing and translate them into what the orchestra was playing.   

Prescott himself had a significant role in creating the elaborate and flamboyant 18th-century costumes along with parents who volunteered to stitch them together. The entire cast had at least two or three different costumes with the leads having five or six different costumes per act.  

“There is such a difference between being in costume and being out of it,” said Peterson. “Costumes help a lot with getting into character.”

In addition, the chorus parents and volunteers also built the impressively expansive set that included the infamous guillotine referred to in the play as “Madame Guillotine.”

“We basically put together the show in seven weeks,” said Prescott.

“This show is going to be the hardest to say goodbye to because it’s been so much of my life these last couple months,” said Peterson. “These people are my family. I love what we’ve done here. I’ve done musical all four years, and it’s been the highlight of my high school career. This is the thing that taught me how to be a person.”

“For me, the fact that it’s my last show doesn’t mean much,” said McHenry. “But the fact that I could be remembered for being such a great character on stage and for performing so well at PA. That means a lot to me.”