The Three Musketeers has been dramatized countless times over the past two centuries, and for a good reason – it’s a rousing tale filled with intrigue, swordplay, appealing characters, and lots of plot twists. So it’s easy to forget that Alexandre Dumas’ novel is a mixture of fast-paced storytelling with long stretches of tedium. (Trudging through six straight chapters about the villainess Milady de Winter’s attempts to seduce a prison guard – written in stilted, drearily translated nineteenth century prose – made me want to slap Dumas and say “Get on with it.”)
But there’s not an ounce of tedium in Ken Ludwig’s stage adaptation, now at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival. It captures the novel’s sense of excitement very well, and adds some thrills of its own.
That’s true even though it’s not completely faithful to Dumas’ novel; devoted fans may find much to object to. The plot resolves differently for a few key characters. And Ludwig has added an important new character – Sabine, the spunky younger sister of the hero D’Artagnan. She tags along with her brother on many of his adventures, and rivals him in fighting skill. At first she just seems like comic relief (“You know, being a girl in the 17th Century is just not that much fun”), but she soon proves her value: Aside from upping the female quotient (a welcome addition to this testosterone-heavy story), she adds a sense of frivolity that allows Ludwig to incorporate more comedy into the story.
Ludwig uses several well-developed running gags, and turns the French King and the villainous Cardinal Richelieu into buffoons. Occasionally he goes too far for a joke, as in some strained double-entendres and the use of a 20th Century pop tune in a ballroom scene. But he never forgets the story’s serious side; the backstories of the musketeers are handled with proper solemnity. This works, so that when the musketeers’ final triumph comes, it feels satisfying.
The nimble direction by Rick Sordelet moves the story at lightning speed, highlighting the astounding, gasp-inducing fight choreography that has made the Sordelet name famous (provided this time by Christian Kelly-Sordelet). Brian Sidney Bembridge’s set design is dominated by a set of rolling scaffolds that can be rearranged quickly, making scene transitions fluid. And the modern sheen of Sidney’s set and Mash Tsimring’s lighting contrasts nicely with Samantha Fleming’s luxurious, authentic-looking costumes. The music and sound design by Alexander Sovronsky (who also plays the musketeer Aramis) is dominated by the sounds of a thrashing string quartet.
The large cast is especially rich. Sean Patrick Higgins is dashing and impetuous as D’Artagnan, pairing nicely with the charming Kelsey Rainwater as his love Constance and the winsome Stephanie Hodge as sister Sabine. As those title characters, Zack Robdas, Alexander Sovronsky and Ian Merrill Peakes make a solid trio; Peakes is especially good, giving his role the gravity it deserves. Dan Hodge as the foppish King and Paul Kiernan as the pompous Cardinal mix villainy with humor. But Stella Baker, as the treacherous Milady, lacks the acidic edge needed to make her character compelling.
PSF’s The Three Musketeers combines comedy with adventure, and it’s a well-balanced mix that is sure to entertain.
Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, including an intermission.
The Three Musketeers plays through Sunday, August 6, 2017, at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, Schubert Theater – 2755 Station Avenue, in Center Valley, PA, on the Campus of DeSales University. For tickets, call (610) 282-WILL, or purchase them online.