As with many classic works that have stood the test of time, Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers has enjoyed—or endured—many interpretations, on stage, film and in other forms of media. Some play this tale of intrigue and derring-do in 17th-century France more or less straight; others go with a more comedic approach. As you might expect if you know other pieces by Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo), comedy comes to the fore in his rendition of Musketeers, now onstage at Asolo Rep.
Ludwig’s broad take on Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express a few seasons ago was a big hit for the company. (I didn’t care for it much, but audiences did.) So it’s natural that the theater would bring back director Peter Amster, who helmed Murder, to present another Ludwig work here.
I say comedy is at the fore, and it is, but even more so is the expected swordplay. The evening opens with a match between the young hero D’Artagnan (Evan Stevens) and (surprise!) his sister Sabine (Erin O’Connor), a character Dumas neglected to create in the original. It’s understandable that Ludwig thought a 21st-century version of Musketeers might benefit from a strong female character; other than the pathologically diabolical Milady (Tracie Lane), the women in Dumas’ book are mostly either victims or strumpets. O’Connor jumps into the role of Sabine with gusto, although mixing her into the plot can at times feel an awkward fit, and there are long stretches where she disappears.
Did I say gusto? That’s the word for the attitude of the whole cast, really; especially during all those duels. (There’s a fairly ridiculous number, all well choreographed by fight director Geoffrey Kent and exuberantly executed by the actors.) The musketeers, Athos (Leighton Samuels), Porthos (Dean Linnard) and Aramis (normally played by Rasell Holt, but subbed by Ray Huth on opening night), are in fairly constant action, whether it’s playfully challenging the daring but naïve D’Artagnan to a series of duels on the same evening (he finds himself overbooked) or, more seriously, protecting Queen Anne (Imani Lee Williams) from her own folly in gifting a diamond necklace to the Duke of Buckingham (Jerald Wheat). Of course they have to get it back in time for the ball her hubby, King Louis (depicted by Peter S. Raimondo as a somehow not unlikable goof), is throwing, urged on by the malevolent Cardinal Richelieu (Jay Russell, who might as well chew all the scenery while he’s at it).
The story of the book is somewhat condensed here, which is fine, and moved along at a fast pace by Amster, which is also fine. The production values, as you might expect from Asolo Rep, are also all fine, whether it’s the costumes of Tracy Dorman or the scenic design by Adam Koch, and the evening is mostly fun, although I don’t think it will stand long in my memory.
But will this Ludwig be a hit like the last one at Asolo Rep? I can’t predict, but can’t help but wonder what story the playwright will adapt next. What’s on his bookshelf?
The Three Musketeers continues in rotating rep through March 26. For tickets, call (941) 351-8000 or visit asolorep.org.