Thursday, May 27, 2010

Why I love "The Scarlet Pimpernel" . . . the musical

I go in cycles in regards to the music I listen too. I listen to something for several weeks straight, and then have to give myself a break of about a year before I listen to it again (drives my husband nuts). 

Recently, I've been listening to a couple of musicals again: "The Scarlet Pimpernel" and "Jane Eyre". Lovely as "Jane Eyre" is, Sir Percy is definitely my favorite. I love the music, but it's the lyrics that blow me away, both with their humor, and with their depth of feeling. As for humor, I love the song where Sir Percy and his men are trying to convince the Prince Regent that all their covert trips to France are made for the sake of fashion, not, of course, to rescue endangered aristocrats from Madame la Guillotine. To really convince their liege lord, they offer an apology for male plumage:

"La, but someone has to strike a pose

And bear the weight of well-tailored clothes.

Each species needs a sex that's fated

To be highly decorated

And that is why the Lord created Man!"

I just love that: to "bear the weight of well-tailored clothes"! Oh, the burden of being a pretty boy! 

And then I'm also struck by how well it hits the achingly sad  notes of the story. There is a song Marguerite sings after Percy leaves her alone on their wedding night (on their wedding day he is told that she has ruthlessly betrayed some of her social enemies to their death - though this later proves to be false), in which she mourns the loss of the man she fell in love with, and says, singing to the absent Percy, 

"I miss him so

When I look at you,"

because, of course, he is the man she fell in love with, but the change in him is so complete that she feels that though she looking at her lover's face, he no longer inhabits it. It's just a horrible thought, the idea that you can miss someone who is right there.

And I can't listen to this soundtrack without noticing how often, and how well, the lyricists employ biblical metaphors. In the song "Madame Guillotine", the French citoyens sing, 

"Zing! Swing! Savor the sting!

As she severs you,

Madame Guillotine.

Slice! Come paradise!

Our Delilah will

Shave you razor-clean!"

I mean . . . that's funny. And then they go for the poignant in songs like "The Riddle", where the characters sing, regretfully,

"Every Judas

Once loved a Jesus.

But finally,

Treason will seize us.

And only fools

Follow golden rules."

I can never hear that first line, "Every Judas once loved a Jesus," without thinking, ouch. Love is required to make a traitor. Ouch, ouch, ouch.

But, by far, my favorite song is "Into the Fire" which, corny as it might be, has given me courage more times than I can count. 

"Into darkness, into danger, into storms that rip the night!

Don't give in, don't give up, but give thanks for the glorious fight!

You can tremble, you can fear it, but keep your fighting spirit alive, boys!

Let the shiver of it sting you, fling into battle, spring to your feet, boys!

Never hold back your steps for moment! Never doubt that your courage will grow!

Hold your head even higher and into the fire we go!"

It just reminds me so much of all of Jesus' commands to "take heart! Be of good cheer! Take courage, it is I, don't be afraid!" To me, the music of this song is a great soundtrack to those words in the gospel.

Finally, I admit that I just love all the melodrama and silliness and passion in this musical, much as I love the melodrama and silliness and passion in the Scarlet Pimpernel stories in general. I love Chauvelin's passionate song to Marguerite, "Where's the Girl?" in both its original form, and in his bitter renunciation of love at the end of the story. I love the ensemble effort in the eponymous "The Scarlet Pimpernel" where a ballroom of English nobility try to guess the identity of the national hero and Percy brashly claims the title in public, knowing that telling the truth is the one certain way to make sure his disguise remains in place. 

And I love all the trumpets. Seriously, this score has a lot of trumpets and they're used, well, triumphantly. It rocks.

Okay, I originally meant this to be a small part of a "7 Quick Takes" post, but it's way too long, so I'm posting it as is. Anyone else have a favorite musical that you don't think enough people know about?

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

3 comments:

MomCO3 said...

So our new favorite is In the Heights. (A fabulous show, touring right now-- go see it!) But we're also really enjoying Urinetown: the Musical. And the kids' favorite is Seussical. And I like Newsies.

Jessica said...

Okay, that's a bizarre title, but I'm requesting the Urinetown soundtrack from the library. :)

And Newsies! I love Newsies. And I actually know one of the composers who worked on the score, because we used to go to church with him. He actually played at my wedding. :) He and his wife are great folks.

Jessica said...

argh! The library doesn't have it! Oh well. I'll have to see if I can find it a different way.