In the program to “Ken Ludwig’s The Three Musketeers,” which is currently being presented at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at Drew University in Madison, director Rick Sordelet praises Ludwig for his “brave and inventive choice” to add a female swashbuckler — D’Artagnan’s younger sister, Sabine — to Alexandre Dumas’ classic story.
Personally, I feel Ludwig could have been a bit more brave and inventive with Dumas’s epic, which was written in the 1800s and set in the 1600s. While Sabine, ably played by Courtney McGowan (a late substitute for Andrea Morales, who had to leave the cast after breaking her ankle), does indeed play a part in the story, she’s not central to most of the action, and feels a bit tagged on.
It wasn’t a bad idea to add her character. But she never becomes more than one more character in a story that already has an abundance of them. It’s not like she turns the tale upside down in any way.
Of course, that’s not what the prolific Ludwig (best known for comedies such as “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Crazy for You”) is trying to do in this adaptation, which debuted in 2006, in England. His primary goal seems to be to condense Dumas’ long, meandering tale into two action-packed but still fairly breezy and easily digestible acts, with lots of swordplay and comic relief, and more utterances of a catchphrase (“all for one, and one for all!”) than you’d get in a typical Marvel superhero movie.
It’s not bad, certainly. But it’s not exactly revelatory, either.
Cooper Jennings makes a dashing STNJ debut as the brave but young and inexperienced D’Artagnan, who is eager to join the trio of Athos (John Keabler), Porthos (Paul Molnar) and Aramis (Alexander Sovronsky) in the royal guard of King Louis XIII. Despite the play’s title, it’s really more about him than them.
The play has a large cast — with 20 actors, nine of whom play more than one role. Other standouts include Bruce Cromer as the conniving, manipulative Cardinal Richelieu; Michael Stewart Allen as the child-like, easily manipulated King Louis XIII; Jeffrey M. Bender and Patrick Toon as the cardinal’s bumbling henchmen, Rochefort and Ravanche; and Anastasia Le Gendre as the femme fatale, Milady de Winter, who is in league with Cardinal Richelieu.
On the night I attended, the biggest laughs were generated by Clark Scott Carmichael as the absurdly foppish and thoroughly ridiculous Duke of Buckingham. He figures into the plot by having an affair with King Louis XIII’s wife, Queen Anne (Fiona Robberson), who really needs to develop better taste in men.
Sordelet is described in the program as “Broadway’s leading fight director,” and his son, Christian Kelly-Sordelet, who is an experienced fight director in his own right, is credited with performing that task for this production. Yet I found the frequent sword fights somewhat disappointing.
Sure, they were intricately choreographed and smoothly executed. But I rarely got the sense that two or, in many cases, more people were actually fighting with a sense of urgency, or danger.
Maybe I shouldn’t have expected that, given the production’s often cartoonish flavor. But I still felt that something was missing.
“Ken Ludwig’s The Three Musketeers” is kicking off the 2019-20 season at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at Drew University in Madison, through July 7.
STNJ annually presents an outdoor production at The College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown. This year it is the spoof “William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged),” which is currently in previews, and will officially open on July 10 and run through Aug. 4.
For information, visit shakespearenj.org.
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