Sunday, January 14, 2001

The patient 'Pimpernel'

It's taken awhile, but SCPA grad now a bona fide Broadway headliner

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Who is that masked man?

        None other than Cincinnati's Ron Bohmer, who saw his name above the title on a Broadway marquee for the first time as The Scarlet Pimpernel. He's reprising the starring role in the national tour that plays the Aronoff Center for 13 days, beginning Tuesday.

        Mr. Bohmer isn't the only cast member with a Cincinnati connection enjoying a career break-through with Pimpernel.

[photo] Ron Bohmer stars in The Scarlet Pimpernel at the Aronoff Center.
(Fifth Third Broadway series photo)
| ZOOM |
        His understudy is Aaron Lazar, a 2000 grad of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music enjoying his first national tour. (As long as Mr. Bohmer stays healthy, you can spot Mr. Lazar on stage as Dewhurst, our hero's good friend.)

        As a novel, Pimpernel was a swashbuckling potboiler, a romance novel for the turn of the last century written by “Baroness Orczy.” It featured hero-disguised-as-a-wimp in Sir Percival Blakeney who has persuaded his friends to join him in a crusade against the atrocities of the French Revolution. Poor Percy has the added dilemma of suspecting that his lovely French bride is a spy.

        As a Frank Wildhorn musical, Pimpernel had a story as dramatic as its plotline. The original version was roundly blasted by the New York critics in 1997.

        A few months later, the original cast was rehearsing a greatly revised show by day even as they performed the original version at night. After a brief complete shutdown, it re-opened to positive response in fall 1998.

        Mr. Bohmer, a 1979 graduate of Cincinnati's School for Creative and Performing Arts, chatting by phone from the tour's stop in Denver, had seen the first version. “It was a mess. I didn't even see it as a show for me.”

    What: The Scarlet Pimpernel
    When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 21, and 2 and 6 p.m. Jan. 28
    Where: Fifth Third Bank Broadway Series, Aronoff Center for the Arts Procter & Gamble Hall
    Tickets: $35-$56. 241-7469

        Nevertheless, when the original Pimpernel, Douglas Sills, announced his plans to leave the show before it re-opened, Mr. Bohmer got the call to audition in mid-1998. He didn't say no.

        Mr. Bohmer won the role, but that's not the end of the story. Theater is not for the faint of heart.

        A couple of weeks later, Mr. Sills decided not to leave the show. It was “thanks, anyway” to Mr. Bohmer. Then four months later he had another call, asking him to go through the whole audition again — four songs, six scenes — for a new producer who hadn't seen him.

        “Faith,” says Mr. Bohmer, “is the most important thing in the (actor's) toolbox. The waiting game is the hardest part of the job. You never know what's coming, or if anything's coming, but you have to believe it's going to happen. You have to want it that much.”

        Mr. Bohmer became Broadway's replacement Pimpernel and met his career goal for the first time: “having starring roles in Broadway musicals with my name above the title.” Above the title is a Big Deal.

        It's making an A-list which says “producers can trust you with their baby because you were good with somebody else's baby.”

        Since he last toured through town in Sunset Boulevard in 1996, life has not been uneventful.

        “The game plan was we'd still be touring (today),” laughs Mr. Bohmer. Anyone who remembers the Broadway financial headlines from the late '90s won't be surprised to hear that suddenly there were “meetings with money people” and that was the end of the tour.

        No problem, Mr. Bohmer had already gotten a call to audition for Phantom of the Opera — again.

        “I'd auditioned for Phantom probably 10 times, it was like my dental check-up, I went in every six months,” laughs Mr. Bohmer.

        This time looked promising — Phantom management were flying him in for the audition, and sure enough, by the end of the day he had a deal to star for five months in Los Angeles and four months in Chicago.

        Good news professionally, lousy news personally.

        “My marriage had started falling apart,” Mr. Bohmer sighs, and nine more months on the road rang its death knell.

        “I was playing this tortured, ugly, unloved man — and feeling the same way in my own life. The whole run was performing as therapy.”

        There is a happy ending for Mr. Bohmer. Sandra Joseph was his Phantom leading lady for part of the tour. She left the show to return to the Broadway production. After Phantom, he returned home to New York, they started dating, now they're engaged.

        The Pimpernel tour ends April 1. As usual he doesn't know what's coming next. Looking back, he laughs, “If there's been any blessing in my career it's that I haven't had to play an animal or a train.”

        Nothing against the recently ended British invasion of Broadway (Cats, Starlight Express),Mr. Bohmer adds quickly, but's he's delighted “to finally be seeing more American musicals being produced. It's good to see Americans finding their voice again.”

        Mr. Bohmer continues finding his own voice, writing his own music for his next CD. His songs, he says, are like his jobs. He doesn't know where they come from, but he identifies his “voice” as that of “a lover and an optimist. I tend to write things about the importance of getting that in line and everything else falls into place.”

        If he could pick what's next, “I'd be at home with my fiancee, my kids (he shares joint custody) and my dog, and it would be something new.

        “But this is theater. No matter where you are in your career,” even with your name above the title, “200 other people are options.”


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