‘Ken Ludwig’s The Three Musketeers’ is filled with humor as well as action

Ken Ludwig's Three Musketeers review

JERRY DALIA

Cooper Jennings, left, with David DeBesse in “Ken Ludwig’s The Three Musketeers” at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.

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.

Jeffrey M. Bender and Anastasia Le Gendre, with Cooper Jennings, bottom, in “Ken Ludwig’s The Three Musketeers.”

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.

Bruce Cromer, left, and Michael Stewart Allen in “Ken Ludwig’s The Three Musketeers.”

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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3 thoughts on “‘Ken Ludwig’s The Three Musketeers’ is filled with humor as well as action

  1. I can’t believe the writer of this review thought the swordfights did not have urgency or danger to them. They were the best swordfights I’ve ever seen and I’ve been coming to this theater since I moved to NJ in 1998.

    The swordfights were dynamic, intricate and theatrical. I’m convinced the writer knows nothing of how swordfights are created for the stage or is too inexperienced to be reviewing theater.

    I also question a review that’s published the day before the show closes.

    Come on NJARTS.NET, what’s disappointing is a lame review that shows up too little and too late, I guess I’m not surprised since your organization seems a bit cartoonish for a state with such great theaters producing wonderful shows.

    I’ve seen the show twice, since I liked it so much. That’s something I rarely do. The fights received applause both nights I saw the show. So maybe your reviewer has an agenda since he devoted so much attention to the fight work.

    I’m not impressed with this review

    • Sorry you didn’t like review, but it’s just my opinion. I may disagree with your opinion but I would never say you’re wrong for having it.

      As far as my credentials, I’ve been an arts writer and editor in NJ for 35 years. If that’s not enough for you, so be it.

      Agree with you that’s it’s terrible this was published so late. I started NJArts.net four and a half years ago, after 25 years at the state’s largest newspaper, The Star-Ledger. I do the vast majority of the work for the website myself, and make very little money from it. I’m very proud that in those four and a half years, the site has published more than 3,000 posts about NJ arts.

      Now, sometimes things happen and it’s impossible for a review to appear in a timely manner. When that happens, I figure it’s better to post late, than never. I HATE when that happens, trust me, more than you know. But it happens.

      You think I have some kind of agenda! Great logic there: A reviewer who doesn’t like something — and, keep in mind, this was overall a mixed review, not a negative one — must have an agenda. Makes perfect sense.

      • Dear Jay,

        I’m impressed you felt the need to respond to my comments regarding The Three Musketeers.
        You’re right. I don’t like your review. I do respect your right to an opinion and acknowledge you have been writing about NJ entertainment for 35 years, which surprises me since I found your review so snarky.
        I’m sure you realize the STNJ, like all the other theaters in NJ is a not for profit. They depend on ticket sales to keep their lights on. Their pockets are not as deep as Papermill or the McCarter nor do they have rich benefactors paying their bills. They depend on reviewers like yourself to help generate word of mouth. Your review did neither.
        While I can appreciate that you created NJARTS.NET and you basically run it by yourself, the least you can do is try to release your reviews so they can have some kind of impact on the show you are writing about. Not only was your timing off but your review, in my opinion, was not a very informative one and the dig at the fight direction made me so angry my wife and I actually went to see it again tonight.
        The house was full and the audience absolutely loved the show. The fights were rewarded with applause on three separate occasions. The big fight at the Luxembourg was a stand out, then the fight in the tavern received an extended applause and finally the final fight with Milady against the all three musketeers brought the house down.
        I couldn’t help but wonder why you thought the fights were lacking when, after seeing the show for the third time, I joined the rest of the audience clapping my hands raw for the best fights I have ever seen.
        My wife and I did not go see the show thinking we were going to see Hamlet. We knew it was written by Ken Ludwig. We knew it was going to be light hearted and zany. I would think, after 35 years of writing about theater, you would have expected that seeing as Ken Ludwig put his name before the title.
        In your 35 years of reviewing theater, please tell me when you ever saw sword fights better than these on any NJ stage. I’ve been seeing theater in NJ since 1998. Nothing has ever come close.
        So yes, my great logic did question why a reviewer would go see KEN LUDWIG’S Three Musketeers and question whether the tone would be cartoonish and ask why there was no danger to the fights. You missed the boat there Jay. The fights were rock solid and perfect for the tenor of the play.
        With the Star Ledger losing the great Peter Filichia and no longer reviewing plays, theaters like STNJ need you. Please consider your writing and release dates. It’s vital to all the non profits. I look forward to continue reading your column.
        My best to you.

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