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The Scarlet Pimpernel

Saturday Night Fever

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From Janet:
Ms. Knighton, when did you first read The Scarlet Pimpernel? What drew you especially to writing the musical yourself?

Wednesday, 17 October 2001

Dear Janet,

You asked me when I first read The Scarlet Pimpernel. I wish I could tell you that it was one of my treasured childhood books, but the plain truth is that I never read it until the afternoon that I found out I might have a shot as lyricist for the show. The school which I attended in Baltimore was a very traditional school where you read all the classics Gulliver's Travels, Vanity Fair, Pilgrim's Progress, A Tale of Two Cities, Pride and Prejudice, etc. But Scarlet Pimpernel was considered one grade lower than the "great classics." So for me, it was one of those books where I had always heard the title but I'd never actually read it. Then I got the phone call in spring of 1989 saying that this guy named Frank Wildhorn was looking for a lyricist for a musical version of "SP" and I was supposed to call him later that afternoon. I literally ran out of the apartment, bought the book, rented the video, ran home and devoured both over the next four hours. I wanted to be sure that if Frank asked me any questions, I would know the answers. He didn't, but it was still the right thing to do because I had the book under my belt and could immediately write some lyrics on spec for him.

Naturally, when I did read Scarlet Pimpernel, I loved it. It was with great interest that I found out in my subsequent research that at the time it was published, it was also considered more of a grade-B novel sort of a thriller-romance of the time. So, although it's apparently never been considered a great classic by any time period, I just fell in love with it and its characters and spirit. Maybe if we all keep pestering the world with the musical, the book will someday receive its just due.

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